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Web Design Essentials, and Robin Williams Web Design Workshop

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In: Reviews > Book Reviews

By James McNally

Published on November 6, 2001

These two recent releases from Peachpit Press (the publisher of the Adobe Press imprint) are aimed at web designers of varying levels of experience. They are primarily visual books without a lot of code examples, and seem focussed for the most part on the issues involved in preparing graphics for use on a web site. Both books discuss graphical issues such as the web-safe palette, gamma differences between the Macintosh and PC platforms, and creating animations.

Web Design Essentials Web Design Essentials (hereafter referred to as Essentials) is more strictly a guide to using Adobe software products to accomplish these tasks and so has more detailed step by step instructions. This is useful, provided the reader has all these complex and expensive software packages. Although Essentials discusses general issues, it would be difficult to get much use from the book unless the reader also owns and uses Adobe Photoshop.

Robin Williams Web Design Workshop Robin Williams Web Design Workshop (hereafter called Workshop) is a more comprehensive look at the process of web design and authoring. It tries to take a more platform and tool-agnostic approach, though both books tend to focus on WYSIWYG web tools like Dreamweaver and GoLive, which have the predictable consequence of discouraging designers from learning the finer points of HTML.

Essentials takes a task-oriented approach, with each example using two (or sometimes four) pages to break a particular task into steps. Each of these sections is well laid out, with plenty of screenshots and even keyboard shortcuts for the advanced user. The book contains more than 50 of these tasks, and while the typical reader probably doesn't need all of them, there is certainly enough information here to make any web designer's life easier. The only drawback is that some of the sections refer exclusively to a specific Adobe software package (e.g. Adobe LiveMotion, Illustrator, GoLive, Photoshop, Acrobat) and it seems likely that many readers will not own all of these programs. Also, at just over 120 pages, the book will seem a bit pricey to those who don't immediately find tasks with which they need help.

Workshop immediately feels like a better value. At three times the length and about the same price, there is more "bang for the buck" here. However, Williams and Tollett have previously published two editions of The Non-Designer's Web Book (the most recent edition in 2000), and some of the content is repeated in Workshop as well. Like her other title, Robin Williams Design Workshop (Peachpit Press, 2001), this book is most useful as a showcase of real world design, with explanations of the decisions behind the design choices and of the process itself.

There is good information here on design workflow and working with clients, though in an effort to keep the book focussed on as many people as possible, the design examples have a certain simplicity and even a sameness about them. I would have liked to see contributions from a more diverse selection of designers, just to give the reader some idea of the variety of design techniques that are used to create effective web sites.

Summary

I'd recommend Robin Williams Web Design Workshop for just about anyone, especially the user who has mastered the basics of web design and is looking for easy to understand information about the more advanced aspects of creating graphics for their web pages. For the more advanced designer with a specific problem (or two) to solve, Web Design Essentials fits the bill nicely. Both books seem aimed at "designers" instead of "programmers" since neither discuss web design at the level of code and markup. Despite this weakness, both books are written and laid out in a friendly and approachable style and contain a wealth of useful information.

Web Design Essentials, Second Edition
by Maria Giudice and Anita Dennis
Adobe Press, 127pp.
US$40.00, Cdn$61.50.

Robin Williams Web Design Workshop
by Robin Williams, John Tollett, and David Rohr
Peachpit Press, 372pp.
US$39.95, Cdn$59.95.

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James McNally is a Toronto based freelance writer and web designer. He is desperately clawing his way back into a new media career. His personal weblog is at http://www.consolationchamps.com/

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