The Four Best Web Design Books You May Have Missed
In: Reviews > Book Reviews
Published on February 2, 2005
Back in the wild-and-wooly early days of Web design, everything was changing quickly and it seemed like a new book came out every day. Now Web browsers, Web design software and Web standards have settled down a little bit and there’s been some time to develop a little perspective on the whole Web design process.
Luckily, we don’t have to buy a book every day anymore. But there are a few books you might have missed that aren’t brand spanking new. They still offer some great bang for the buck and are available on Amazon.com (or in the Web design section of larger brick-and-mortar stores).
I’ve put together a list of the four best Web design books that you might have missed. Some are a few years old, but they’re still worth a look—especially if you are new to Web design.
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
What It’s About
It seemed like a pretty strange topic in 2000 when Steve Krug wrote this book, but now there are countless Web sites and blogs about usability. Before you start chiming in on the usability discussions, read this book.
Krug hits topics like navigation, designing for the Web (and how people use Web sites), designing the home page and usability testing. All of it is just as pertinent now as it was in 2000.
Who It’s For
Don’t Make Me Think is for anyone who has anything to do with creating or paying someone to create a Web site.
Think I’m kidding? I’m not. If you can convince your clients to take this on their next business trip (it’s designed to be the right length to read on a long plane ride) the world (or at least the World Wide Web) will be a better place.
Seriously, this is a book for anyone who has any interest in Web site usability. It doesn’t have any code in it. It’s fun and easy to read and it’s pretty short.
I was tempted to just put “Don’t make me think!” here and leave it at that, but I’ll give you more:
“You may be thinking: ‘Well, it doesn’t take much effort to figure out whether something’s clickable. If you point your cursor at it, it’ll change from an arrow to a pointing hand. What’s the big deal?’
“The point is, when we’re using the Web every question mark adds to our cognitive workload, distracting our attention from the task at hand. The distractions may be slight but they add up, and sometimes it doesn’t take much to throw us.”
What more can I say? This is a book on usability that is itself highly usable. It makes learning about usability easy and shows us how to instantly apply that knowledge. Here’s just one example of how usable the book is: Krug offers the reader a chance to critique Web site designs and then critiques them himself, so we can see how we did. This will change how you see Web sites.
Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman
What It’s About
If you’ve been around Web design for any time at all, you’ve heard the name Zeldman. His Web magazine, A List Apart, is required reading for designers who want to push the envelope. He wrote the book (this one) on how and why to code with standards.
He covers a brief history of Web design, HTML, doc types and a lot of CSS, including examples and best practices.
Who It’s For
If you know a little HTML and CSS but would like to delve more deeply into Web standards, or if you have ever wondered what it means to code semantically, this book is for you. Zeldman wrote it at the peak of change in the Web design world. Almost all the information is still valid, even though it was published in 2003. In fact, the browser list in the back is still fairly accurate.
“After you’ve read this section of the chapter [Hybrid Layouts and Compact Markup: Dos and Don’ts] and engraved its simple lessons on your heart, when colleagues or vendors try to get away with certain kinds of foolish markup, you will call them on it with chillingly apt descriptive labels invented in this chapter. Your colleagues and vendors will develop a newfound respect for markup, a newfound respect for you, and above all, a profound discomfort whenever you’re around them.”
This book is where I learned to mark my pages up for CSS and how to use CSS to the best advantage. I still go back to it for some of the more advanced concepts like the DOM (document object model). It’s a deep book that you may have to return to several times, but always worth the trip.
Unusually Useful Web Book by June Cohen
What It’s About
This one is about the entire Web design process—from planning to building and maintaining your Web site. It touches on almost everything you can imagine, including how to code HTML, what to look for in a server and how to optimize your Web site for search engines.
June Cohen founded Web Monkey, a great site resource for Web designers, and published this book in 2003—apparently a good year for Web design books.
Who It’s For
This book is perfect for anyone looking for an overview of Web design in one place. Even though it’s a thick book, it covers a lot of ground and some of it is summarized. But it works hard to make everything easy to digest by using lists and short chapters. There are also action sections that are do-it-yourself worksheets and advice from leading experts, so it’s easy to just browse through to pick and choose sections of interest.
“Speed is the single most important factor for any Web site, regardless of its audience, focus or goals. For all Web users—from the clueless newbie to the cranky veteran—have one thing in common: They hate to wait. They expect the Web to move as fast as their desktop applications—as fast as their minds work, really—and even a few seconds of lag time can set them on edge or send them packing.”
I still haven’t learned everything that’s covered in this book. Cohen really knows the Web design process and it’s great to have one place to go for an overview of the whole thing. This is another one that I return to again and again. It’s worth the purchase price for the interviews and the worksheets, if nothing else.
Web Analytics Demystified by Eric T. Peterson
What It’s About
Now that everyone knows that the Web is here to stay and many businesses have a Web site, more people want to know if their Web site is really working for them. How many people are visiting? What are they doing on the site? How can we improve the site? If we make a change, how do we know if it’s an improvement?
Enter Eric T. Peterson and his 2004 book Web Analytics Demystified. He also discusses a process called Continuous Improvement, and backs it up with how to measure your Web site’s improvement.
Who It’s For
The cover says it’s for marketers, but the author knows his Web technology just as well as his marketing technology. He doesn’t bury the reader with jargon from either discipline but explains terminology to both sides. Not only did I learn a little marketing-speak, I discovered some ways to describe Internet terms to business people.
So, I would say it’s for people on both sides of the aisle that want to learn a bit about the other side and want to work on continuously improving their Web sites.
“It is difficult to emphasize enough the importance of making use of the continuous improvement process in your Web analytics program. Many of you will likely recognize the close relationship between continuous improvement and the Six Sigma process; more of you should realize that Continuous Improvement and Kaizen are only more interesting terms to describe the scientific method—forming and testing hypotheses by collecting data and objectively analyzing said data. Most, if not all, of the greatest gains of humanity have been realized by some application of the scientific method: is there any reason to expect that your Web site cannot benefit from the application of a strategy this tested and valuable?”
This book is a little wordier than the other ones on this list and I read it a little slower, but I never got bogged down anywhere. It managed to make Web analytics exciting and I was fired up every time I read it, ready to roll up my sleeves and dive into my Web sites’ Web analytics packages. It has definitely earned its spot next to the other three on this list.
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
New Riders Press, 2000, 195pp.
Designing with Web Standards
New Riders Press, 2003, 456pp.
Unusually Useful Web Book
New Riders Press, 2003, 408pp.
Web Analytics Demystified
Eric T. Peterson
Celilo Group Media, 2004, 266pp.