Author: Sean McManus
Publisher: Easy Steps, 5th Ed, 2011
Aimed at: General audience
Pros: Covers many topics
Cons: In general only skims the surface
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
How do you create a website that looks good and makes money? According to its back jacket this book sets out to tell you.
The first section of the book sets out "The Web Design Challenge" and it's a tough challenge for a fairly slim book - especially as it aimed at the novice. It sets out to teach the key principles of web design and to a certain extent that is something that gets harder as time goes by.
One of the first topics covered is the diversity of devices people could use to visit your website. Not content with computer, iPhone/cell phone, iPad/tablet device and games console Sean McManus extends the list to a screenreader to read web pages aloud to blind people and a refreshable Braille display which can be read by touch. This is followed by a discussion of how devices affect design and later on a section on accessibility including 15 principles for making a site easy to use. The section ends with seven steps for setting up a website - and these are expanded on in the following sections.
Planning is the first step and is the topic of Section 2 which starts by exploring the purpose of the website, identifying its existing competitors and considering its potential audience. The section also covers hosting the website and selecting a domain name and concludes with two pages on working with web designers - the alternative to designing the website for yourself.
Section 3 deals with creating content. The first couple of pages review some ideas for content, it then looks at how writing for the web differs from printed documentation followed by a page of sensible tips. It then moves on to images including photos from Flickr and cartoons. At a rather different level it then looks at compressing images and then changes tack again with adding a Google map to your site.
Layout and Design is considered in the next section - mentioning first five goals that website design needs to achieve starting with "inspire visitors to look around your site and spend time there", it goes on to discuss the problem of not knowing how large a user's the web browser will be. Then the discussion becomes more practical, introducing the technique of using a grid, presenting four steps for achieving good alignment and considering what to put above and below the fold, adopting another idea from the newspaper industry. Other topics in the section are color scheme, gradients, fonts and it concludes with a consideration of the look and feel of the site. Next comes a section on navigation and this seemed to be particularly useful and coherent. It concludes with 14 tips for effective links.
The remaining chapters are relatively short and each of them covers a topic which really requires many more pages. For example, we look at audio, video and flash in 10 pages and adding a shopping cart in another 10. Section 12 covers Adding a Social Dimension - integrating with Facebook and Twitter, Adding Photos from Flickr and adding and moderating comments is only 8 pages. Similarly the final three sections on Testing and Launching; Promoting Your Website, which looks at how people search, has 7 top tips for SEO and also covers advertising; and Measuring Success, which introduces analytics all cover important topics but far too briefly to do more than make the reader aware that these are aspects they will need to know about if they want to achieve a successful website.
This book is part of a series of programming, software and computing related titles, some of them aimed specifically at "seniors", and follows a formula that applies to all the Easy Steps including being in full colour will lots of illustrations and numbered points and with the margins devoted to tips, warnings and reminders. On the whole this title adapts well to the formula but what tends to be lost is the development of a narrative thread - so this is a book to be dipped into rather than read cover to cover.
By virtue of trying to cover so much it tends to skim the surface of topics - for example towards the end of the book there is a chapter on CMS (Content Management Systems) that mentions Joomla! and Drupal in a sidebar tip on the page that explains what a CMS is and then introduces and focuses on Wordpress, going from setting it up, to adding pages to managing comments in just six pages!
This is typical and the overall verdict has to be that it tries to cover far too much ground in far too few pages. If you want a rapid overview then it might be a good place to start.
Visit the author's website for more information and sample chapters.