Author: Erin Anderson et al.
Publisher: New Riders, 2010
Aimed at: Students and teachers of web design
Pros: Sound advice attractively presented
Reviewed by: Lucy Black
This book is a team effort that expands on the WaSP (Web Standards Project InterACT curriculum.
It was only after I started reading this book that I realised that the "interact" in the title wasn't a verb but a reference to an initiative on the part of WaSP, the Web Standards Project. According to its website:
InterACT is a living, open curriculum based upon web standards and best practices, designed to teach students the skills of the web professional.
The book has contributions from 10 member of the InterACT curriculum team and while it isn't a textbook of the online curriculum it presents the same principles. Given that this is an educational book with a conversational style, I liked the way each of the authors was introduced with a photo, a brief bio and a map - it gave the feeling that you were meeting your professors.
The book has three parts and the first, Preparation and Background Knowledge, starts with a short chapter that explains that the book is for those learning or teaching how to design websites and explains that it is aligned with the InterACT curriculum. Chapter 2 on Tools is also very short. As well as mentioning text editors, graphics editors, FTP clients it suggests you also need versioning software. Rather than making specific recommendations it refer you to links to software and reviews of tools on the InterAct website.
Chapter 3: Learning on the Web has useful advice that has wide applicability. It "aims to provide a guide to using the Web better in order to more efficiently find the answers to you own questions, locate new sources of information and retain said new information". The chapter concludes with a list of further resources and recommended (online) reading, a feature that is common to subsequent chapters.
Lars Gunther takes the view that "When you develop for the Web it is imperative to know a bit about its history and how it works" and in Chapter 4: Internet Fundamentals he provides this background.
Part I concludes with a Erin Anderson's advice on Writing for the Web. At almost 30 pages this is the longest chapter in the section. It is all good advice and rounds out with Top 10 web writing tips.
Part II is on Planning a Website. Its first chapter is an introduction to Information Architecture. The idea that you need a team, or at least the ability to take on different roles for a website comes across strongly and seven distinct roles are identified: Project manager, Information architect, Usability analyst, Writer/content manager, Visual designer, Develop and Quality tester- although author Glenda Sims does point out one person can wear multiple hats. The remaining chapters in this part are also written by Glenda Sims. Chapter 7 looks at site planning, . Here she has seven steps: Define project requirements, Conduct research and analysis, Develop design, Build, Test, Deploy, Maintain. Chapter 8 is on Content Analysis and its message is to focus on the users and from here we go on to Chapter 9: Content Strategy which culminates in four types of information architecture diagrams - Content map, Page description diagram. Wireframe and Storyboard.
Most of Part III is by Chris Mills and goes into the practicalities of site design using HTML and CSS. In this part you find many Try it yourself! boxouts with exercises to complete, many with step-by-step instructions.
Chris Mills starts with an introduction to HTML starting with its history, a clear overview of what it is and a clear explanation of the structure of an HTML document. He goes on to explain the Document Object Model, emphasises the importance of good semantics, presents some HTML best practices and introduces HTML 5. Its all useful to the beginner.
The next chapter introduces CSS - again starting with its history and going on to the anatomy of a CSS rule. It shows how CSS in applied to HTL and covers comments, shorthand, measurement units, colors and selectors. It discusses inheritance and the three main concepts of the cascade: importance, specificity and source order.The chapter concludes with a brief mention of CSS3.
From Chapter 12 things get practical and there are sample code downloads on the website to use in the Try it yourself! exercises. Chapter 12 looks at the different features found inside the <head> element - including DOCTYPE, the <lang> attribute and the title. The titles of subsequent chapters clearly indicate what they cover:
- 13 Headings and Paragraphs
- 14 Whitespace
- 15 Links
- 16 Images
- 17 Lists
- 18 Tables
- 19 Forms
- 20 Floats
- 21 Positioning
This is a logical ordering and each chapter is well presented with lots of sample markup and exercises based on the downloadable files. There isn't a set format but where appropriate there is a "best practices" section. The material gets increasingly advanced and, having made the point that using tables for layout is bad practice it gives good coverage of floating - something that is often badly explained - and positioning.
Towards the end of Part 3 there are three chapters by another author, Derek Featherstone, on accessibility - making websites usable by people of all abilities and those with disabilities. In Chapter 22 he introduces the idea and briefly outlines the four key areas of impairment where it has to be considered: visual, dexterity, auditory and cognitive. These are expanded on in Chapter 23 and in Chapter 24 he presents guiding principles to make a website perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
The book concludes with a short Chapter 25: Bringing it all together by Virginia DeBolt, again relying on downloadable code samples. If you have arrived at this chapter having worked your way through the rest of the book it comes as a satisfying way to go through a project from its requirements to the deployment and testing phases and then the issues, briefly touched, of publicity and evaluation.