Author: Brian P. Hogan
Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2010
Aimed at: Developers
Pros: Useful to complete beginners
Cons: Majority of book not on topic of "design"
Reviewed by: Mike James
I'd really like something that would tell me how to produce great web designs. Is this the book to do it?
I'm a developer and I often create some terrible web designs. The good news is that they are generally only demos and first attempts, but I admit I could do with some design sense. This book seemed to promised this in that it is called "Web Design for Developers" and as I said I'm a developer and I could do with learning some design. However if you take more notice of the subtitle of the book "A programmer's guide to design tools and techniques" then the purpose of the book is a little less clear.
The first problem with this book, for me at least, was the way it used a stupid storyline to motivate what it was telling me. Using a food web site as an example is not a bad idea, but describing the objectives as questions asked by the stakeholders seemed unnecessary and a time waste. Fortunately, things settle down by the end of the first chapter and we start to have a sensible discussion of the aims of design. A single quote from page 16 will probably gauge your reaction to the rest of the book:
"Pencil and paper are important to the creative process, and you can draw much more quickly with these tools than you can with a computer...."
I have never been able to draw with a pencil or any other traditional artistic element, but I can use a vector drawing package to good effect. So no pencil for me. When I design a layout I will use something that I can really interact with.
Chapter 3 is on color theory and if you know even a little about this topic then the book doesn't add anything. Of course the news that "Blue can be calming" might come as a revelation to you, in which case the chapter is worth a read. One of the problems is that I know all this stuff and I'm still not a good designer. There must be more to tell.
Chapter 4 does for fonts what the previous chapter did for color and once again it doesn't go beyond the standard theory. Here, however, you start to get the feeling that the author would really be happier concentrating on programming issues because there is a discussion of HTML and fonts.
Part II "Adding Graphics" starts just when you think that Part I could have more to say about basic design. Chapter 5 is promising because it's on the design of a logo. The problem is that it concentrates on how to use a vector drawing program rather than how to think about layout and design. There is some discussion of how logos work but not much - certainly not enough to turn me into a designer.
Chapter 6 is on design mockups and might have some useful things to say about design, but once again it's more focused on how to do it using a drawing package. Chapter 7 deals with content in the mockup and Chapter 8 on the finishing touches. None of this helped me see what the guiding principles of the design were. The design looked good but I don't think it taught me how to do it.
Part III of the book "Building the Site" more or less gives up on design and simply discusses HTML and CSS. It goes through the usual stuff of semantic markup versus layout provided by CSS and teaches you about tags and attributes and so on. All reasonably well explained, but if you are a developer in search of design knowledge this is just irrelevant.
Chapter 9 explains the basics of HTML and chapter 10 deals with converting the mockup into HTML. Chapter 11 is about CSS, then we have something on styles and creating a printer friendly page.
Part IV of the book "Preparing for Launch" doesn't attempt to return to the topic of design either. It is all about fine tuning - making sure your site works with all browsers, accessibility, creating an icon, search engine optimisation, designing for mobile devices, testing and optimisation and where to go next.
Altogether the sections of the book that you could argue aren't about design but about standard HTML "programming" issues total over half of the book. I suppose if you were say a Java programmer coming to web page design you might find the flow from design matters to implementation matters useful, but then you would probably want a more advanced book that simply told you how it all worked.After all from a programmer's point of view HTML/CSS is hardy rocket science. On the other hand if you are a programmer seeking help with design you are going to find half of the book pretty much a waste of time. What is more disappointing is that there are no deep insights into the mind of a designer - just some standard theory and a few examples.
Perhaps the book I need can't be written - but this one doesn't even attempt the task of making me into a designer.