There are millions of websites vying for our attention like a cacophony of raised voices in which few are heard. If you hope to raise above the noise so your voice can be heard, you need to communicate more intelligently. It’s self-apparent that by improving findability you can make your business and your clients’ businesses more successful, and you can certainly broadcast a message to a larger audience. These are the easy-to-comprehend, compelling truths to the value of findability in our projects, which can serve our immediate, individual needs.
The following volumes do indeed sit on my shelves and, yes, I have read them all — bar the odd chapter here or there. They have helped me to stay out of the classroom and have nourished me immeasurably. I’ve not used a star system to set one above another, but my comments alongside each may help perform that function. Some of these books I find — and still find — to be quite simply invaluable. (Most recently published first, probably!)
Who better to guide us through the complexities of website typography than the head of typography at Adobe, Tim Brown? This concise guide does just that. There have been several books on web typography recently but this book approaches the topic from the typesetting perspective, turning web design principles back onto the first principles of text layout and composition. As the author rightly says: “typesetting is the most important part of typography because … it involves preparing text for reading”.
Whilst setting out the technicalities of CSS that relate to typography, we are encouraged to use our judgement based on typesetting good sense. The manner in which the author talks us through that process seems informal — but structured. He introduces notions of pressure and contrast/focus, which work towards establishing a hierarchy of text layout.
There’s a lot in this small volume, maybe too much to introduce into a project in one go. The fundamental approach is of iterative design patterns through repeated revision and evaluation. Happy reading!
Another gem of a book from my favourite publisher and this one amply demonstrates that a book-sized refresher course really can get one up-to-speed on recent developments in a specific aspect of web design. Designing websites that are accessible to everyone — irrespective of their specific needs — is hugely important and this book takes the view that everyone benefits from accessible design, even users with no obvious impairments. Yes.
There’s a mass of wisdom and experience in this volume which sheds light on new research, new perspectives and — above all — new resources. If, like me, you last looked at this aspect of web design in detail several years ago, then this will help re-enthuse you about its importance. If you’re new to the subject, there’s perhaps no better read of equivalent brevity.
This is yet another reminder about how many strands of knowledge and understanding are required by solo web designers. An informed and compassionate volume.
Richard Rutter describes this volume as a handbook but if, like me, you find yourself reading it from cover to cover (instead of dipping into it as a reference book — which you can also do), don’t feel bad about it! This has the authority of Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style with the web context of Jason Santa Maria’s On Web Typography. It could exist as the only book you’ll ever need to read on web typography — until the next wave of technological change bursts upon us. This is a dazzling book, some ten years in the writing, unabashedly nerdy and pedantic and because of this: authoritative. This will have to be the go-to book on this subject for years to come. It is detailed, wise, lovingly crafted and a joy to leaf through and digest.
Special mention should be made of the book’s ample glossary and bibliographies, of its CSS index, and of its If you read nothing else, read this section, which condenses nearly 300 pages of detail into just over six pages of succinct guidelines. A gem.
I’d recommend this small volume as the best way to leapfrog everything written about CSS in the last ten years. It describes the CSS Grid Layout concept which enables authors to divide layouts into columns and rows using sizing behaviours. Around 70% of the latest browser versions (at November 2017) support these mechanisms so sites can indeed be crafted using them today, with fall-backs scripted up using the CSS supports feature query. The author hand-holds us through this new layout model using simple examples that offer extraordinary power in the simplest possible fashion. Tables went many years ago. This book shows you how to dispense with floats too. Make use of this book to simplify your layout code and save time.
A snappy introduction to pricing web projects, especially valuable for beginner freelancers. Replete with insight and specific about different industry pricing models. Take-away nugget: the price you charge for a website is based on the value you are providing to a client. The book’s central case study examines this. From their inexpensive download-only Briefs series by my favourite web design publishers A Book Apart.
A detailed book that will be of value to those who are not familiar with Drupal. This caters for site-builders who want to install Backdrop and go and for those who want to roll their own code on top of a vanilla Backdrop installation. Just note that some of the authoring links are not from the current version of Backdrop, but these minor differences are navigable. This will help anyone get a Backdrop CMS website up and running.
This slim volume explains the basics of taking a Drupal 7 site and converting it into a Backdrop CMS site. It covers the fundamental architectural changes required to make D7 themes and modules function within the newer, lighter-weight Backdrop CMS. This is a clean introduction, but it would benefit from screenshots which are readable. (The author, a namesake, is no relation!)
A detailed examination of the way that our sausage-fat fingers interact with pixels. This is an excellent discussion of the world of rectangular touch screens and the way in which we stretch, crumple, drag, flick aside, point, prod and swipe the pixels that they display. The best read for opening up this particular domain of design challenges — from my favourite publisher.
Web standards is a topic that recently seems to have been eclipsed in importance by more fashionable — or pressing — aspects of web design such as UX and responsiveness, so I was interested in seeing what take an Apress book published in 2014 had. Thankfully, the idea that you can — even should — start a project with the aim of the finished code conforming to web standards has not gone away. This volume reiterates this at every turn.
If I were running a course on web technologies, I’d probably include this as a student text. It’s exhaustive, detailed and authoritative. The index, however, could have had more substantial input.
I had to persevere with this volume because it is more applicable to big agencies with big budget web projects, rather than the one-man-band work that I do. That said, there are valuable insights into client-designer relationships here that are applicable across the board. The author takes a novel approach in setting out to guide clients through the site-build process, which can reasonably be described as ‘managing expectations’.
This builds on Ethan Marcotte’s seminal Responsive Web Design by looking at the latest options available for delivering lightweight web pages to mobile, plan-constrained, users. It charts a nuanced path between serving pages to latest-generation browsers that support evolving standards and managing this in older ones where graceful fall-backs are required. This is a nice, clear read.
This is the latest volume from my favourite web industry publisher of “brief books for people who build websites”, A Book Apart, and I can’t resist picking it up and re-reading parts of it. It starts with the reading process itself, moves through to the role played by typography, then covers evaluating typefaces and choosing and pairing them. This is authoritative stuff which is also a good read. Very, very informative.
When the client view of your website shrinks, what happens to your content — and what needs to happen? This book addresses these two questions by examining the information architecture issues that have arisen from technological change in website viewing. Essential reading around a complex subject.
A clear and authoritative account of the options available for displaying sophisticated and elegant maps that integrate Drupal website content which has a geographical basis. Essential reading for getting Drupal data on the map!
An exceptionally clear examination of the principles of web content publishing and the rational and emotional craft, tools and techniques that can be employed to make a website’s content resonate with users.
Fluid grids, flexible images and media queries. This is a clearly laid-out approach to the options available for creating sites that are viewable on a range of different devices, from desktop to smart phone to tablet.
This volume has been mentioned in despatches almost more than any other in recent years and is generally acknowledged as being the book that paved the way for ‘responsive web design’. An updated 2nd edition was issued in 2014.
A dream of a book by a well-respected web designer about what makes users ‘fall in love’ with particular websites. Beautifully laid out, the book addresses the role of psychology in website design as a method of connecting to people.
A reasonably clear discussion of using media queries and alternate style sheets (and testing and deployment) so that a website can respond to different devices, specifically in the context of managing this in CMS environments. Worth a spin.
A clear account of proposed changes to CSS (the style sheet language for websites), which browser supports which proposed property and selector. A well-produced book with clear examples. A good primer on what’s just over the horizon and usable today.
Aside from the commercial dimension of the internet, how much of what we surf is there because of talent and goodwill? Wikipedia, for example, represents perhaps a 100 million hours of human thought (compared to the 200 billion hours of TV watched each year in America). This thought-provoking book sheds light on the brighter side of the internet.
Ubercart is one of Drupal’s most popular e-commerce modules, in use on over 30,000 websites. This volumes details some of the more complex issues relating to setting up a Drupal e-commerce website.
Bags of detail about the dark heart of Drupal which makes most people fall silent and shake. This is a romp of a manual for doing what I call “intelligent web publishing” with Drupal 6. Splendid!
A walk-through of the programming aspects of building a Drupal-driven website.
A primer on what needs to be done to ensure that websites can be found by search engines and — crucially — by making them conform to web standards. This volume yet again confirms that for sites to be successful they need to conform to web standards — as well as being good on the eye.
All you need to know about the Drupal content management framework — and then some more.
An excellent introduction to the power and elegance of the Drupal content management framework.
Don’t judge this book by the shot of the beanie-hatted author on the cover! Zeldman is amongst the web’s most respected designers and writers and is an evangelist for the development of websites that comply with web standards. This volume makes the convincing case for web standards, including the bottom line of ROI, accessibility and findability/SE-friendliness.
A primer on the importance of mastering CSS in pursuit of developing standards-compliant websites.
Web page design under the microscope.
An outstanding primer on web design and the way in which lean mark-up can deliver stunning visual design. At the time, this was just about the most absorbing book one could hold. A collection of designers had skinned the same HTML code with their own CSS and images, making a dazzling array of web standards compliant site designs. This was a brilliantly simple demonstration of the power and potential of CSS. Anybody unconvinced before opening the book was guaranteed to be a CSS convert at the end. A professional epiphany!
A concise explanation of the obligations placed upon web designers in order to improve user experience on the web.
The first principle of typographic style, according to Robert Bringhurst, is that “typography exists to honor content”. As the opening shot in this hugely influential book, this sets the tone perfectly. For those of us for whom typography — now (also) on the internet — plays a vital role in shaping web page design, this book lays the foundations in context. Not only is it dense with detail, it is also beautifully-designed.
Implications for software designers resulting from insights into human-computer interaction.