Web design books
When the MA Web Design & Content Planning programme began in 2004 (then called MA Website Architecture), good books on web design were hard to find. These days, new web design books appear every month and many of them are excellent but it's difficult to know which are worth buying and which to leave alone. We asked ourselves, if we had to recommend just 10 books that covered the range of topics taught on our programme, what would they be? As it turned out, this was a very tricky decision because there are a lot of good books out there so in some cases, we've made alternative suggestions - yes, we cheated.
So, if you're new to web design, the library below can be used to learn almost all you need to know about current practice in this new and fast-changing area of design. Of course, books alone won't make you a web designer but they're a good start.
- The Essential Guide to CSS and HTML Web Design by Craig Grannell
- Web Standards Solutions (2nd edition) by Dan Cederholm
- Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design by Andy Clarke
- The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird
- Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience by James Kalbach
- Don't Make Me Think (2nd edition) by Steve Krug
- Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et. al.
- Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO, and Beyond by Aarron Walter
- PHP Solutions: Dynamic Web Design Made Easy by David Powers
The Essential Guide to CSS and HTML Web Design by Craig Grannell
At long last, here is a book that talks about ‘a modern, modular approach to standards-compliant web design’ in a clear, logical and friendly manner. No small feat because contemporary web design practice is complex and a good understanding of a whole range of topics is required in order to master the art.
Craig Grannell approaches the topic by looking at various aspects of web design, with chapters like ‘Working with Type’ and ‘Page layouts with CSS’ rather than the more prosaic approach of many code-based books. The initial chapters of the book give a comprehensive background and primer to HTML and CSS but avoid the mistake of looking at code in the abstract. All through the book, code examples are illustrated with the rendered result so that the reader can make a clear connection between code and image.
The Essential Guide to CSS and HTML Web Design is available at Amazon.co.uk.
Also consider: HTML Dog: The Best-Practice Guide to XHTML & CSS by Patrick Griffiths
Web Standards Solutions (2nd edition) by Dan Cederholm
OK, so you learned about XHTML and you learned about CSS and you even learned about how they can work together. But what about technique and method? What is the best practice for creating navigation bars? Never fear, Dan Cederholm is here to show you how.
In truth, many of the methods described in this book are now standard practice for the seasoned web designer but for the beginner who has just got to grips with XHTML and CSS, this book is invaluable. The book focuses on best practice coding for the most common page elements such as headings, navigation, forms, page layout, styling text and, of course, image replacement. The book is well written and although it deals with some complicated issues, it does so in an easy and engaging way.
Web Standards Solutions (2nd edition) is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Also consider: CSS Mastery (Advanced Web Standards Solutions) by Andy Budd
Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design by Andy Clarke
Andy Clarke's Transcending CSS, sub-titled the fine art of web design, is a fantastic book. I very much hope that it is the first of a new breed of web design primers – books that consider web design as a synthesis of the artistic and the technical. As Molly Holzschlag says in the forward to this book, ‘One of the greatest challenges Web designers and developers face is to bridge the communication gap between highly visual and highly linear thinkers. It's only the rare individual who has been able to show a balance between sophisticated, innovative design and progressive, complex technical issues.’ Clearly, Andy Clarke is just such a person.
The book itself is full of great examples of web design accompanied by code snippets and Clarke's cogent commentary on how they relate and why such an approach is considered good practice. Each example is also there to make a point and to carry the book forward. This is not a ‘tips'n'tricks’ book, it is structured in a logical way and explains and demonstrates a number of important principles (such as the importance of semantic markup) in a clear and confident manner. Neither is this a beginner's book. Clarke assumes a basic understanding of XHTML and CSS and the books aim is to take the web designer to a higher plane.
The book is divided into 4 sections; Discovery;, which introduces Clarke's concept of ‘transcendent CSS’ and includes many of the contemporary ideas about the use of CSS. Process considers an approach to web design that perfectly integrates graphic design with coding and focuses on finding coding solutions to graphic design problems. Part 3, Inspiration is a novelty for a book on web design; with little or no coding, its main focus is on the art and graphic design process and there is a very good section on the use of grids. The final part, Transcendence considers the use of some advanced CSS techniques with a particular emphasis on positioning and the arrangement of images and rounds off with a look at the future and CSS3.
This is a book that no web designer should be without and I fully expect to have to buy a second copy in 12 months time when the pages start falling out through overuse. If I were asked to encapsulate this book in as few words as possible, the best I could come up with would be ‘moodboards and markup’;. The best DESIGN book for web designers by a country mile.
Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Also consider: The Art & Science of CSS by Cameron Adams et al.
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird
This book could be subtitled ‘Graphic Design for Websites’ because that's exactly what it is. In 5 chapters, entitled ‘Layout and Composition’, ‘Color’, ‘Texture’, ‘Typography’ and ‘Imagery’, Beaird discusses all the various graphic components and concepts relevant to building websites. This is not a code book but it is a valuable reference for the early stages of web design. Get these principles right and you'll make great looking websites.
Although this book is relatively slim at just 168 pages, it is chock full of useful information. In particular, almost every page has a footnote containing one or more links that take the reader to even more information on the topic in question. ‘What's the point of a link in a book?’ I hear you asking. Well, this book (like all Sitepoint books) is available as a PDF and in the PDF book, all the links are live. Again, as with all Sitepoint books, there is a sample PDF containing a few chapters that you can download for free.
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design is available at Amazon.co.uk.
Also consider: Sexy Web Design by Elliot Jay Stocks
Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience by James Kalbach
In days gone by, web navigation may have merited a chapter in a book on web design, but here is an entire volume dedicated to the topic and it tells you all you need to know. The book is thorough and considers navigation in the context of information architecture, interface design, usability, business priorities, vocabulary and accessibility (to name but a few) and begins with an overview of navigation and a discussion of navigation types. The book is well illustrated throughout in full colour and succeeds in its aim of being the most comprehensive book on the subject.
Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience is available at Amazon.co.uk.
Also consider: Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott & Theresa Neil
Don't Make Me Think (2nd edition) by Steve Krug
This book, subtitled ‘A common sense approach to web usability’ is just that. It makes a point of stating the obvious and the not so obvious in order to give a complete picture of website usability. The book is printed in full colour and is thoughtfully illustrated - in fact, it's an object lesson in usability. Clear writing and wry humour make Krug's book a joy to read and he manages to get over some quite complicated ideas without you even noticing. There are also lots of excellent examples from real sites because as Krug points out ‘…you'll find that the sites I use as examples tend to be excellent sites with minor flaws. I think you can learn more from looking at good sites than bad ones.’ Well said.
If you follow all the excellent advice in this book, your websites will be a joy to use and your visitors will be able to find the information they are looking for, quickly and easily, with no blind alleys, no ambiguity and no frustration.
Don't Make Me Think is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Also consider: Prioritizing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger
Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et al.
The clear goal of this book is to be the authority on web accessibility and it scores well by all measures. In all, there are contributions from 11 authors; all experts in their own field and this gives the book considerable weight, both intellectually and physically (it's 648 pages long). It goes without saying that this book is comprehensive and it's certainly not a book you should aim to read cover-to-cover but the individual chapters are easily digestible and generally well written.
The book is intended to be geographically generic but obviously, regulations vary from one country to another. Fortunately, chapter 17 gives a run-down of regulations in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom and the European Union; both of which are important to us.
Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO, and Beyond by Aarron Walter
I've been waiting for someone to write this book for some time. Essentially, Building Findable Websites is a good practice guide for people who actually build websites and who want them found. It describes how web pages should be built in order to make them visible on the web and covers topics such as the correct use of markup, how to name your files and folders, custom 404s, site search and how to create original and attractive content.
Most of these ideas are not new but this is the first book to bring them all together in a logical form and to express them in a coherent manner. This book is a must have for all serious web designers. My only criticism of the book is that it is too short. The book ends with an excellent chapter called ‘Putting Findability Into Practice’, which is an action plan that readers can use for their own website. However, there is more to the book than is written between its covers. A companion website includes 5 ‘bonus’ chapters as PDFs that really should be a part of the book - the one on traffic analysis is particularly useful. Still, taken as a whole, this is an excellent body of work - thank you Aarron Walter.
Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO, and Beyond is available at Amazon.co.uk.
PHP Solutions: Dynamic Web Design Made Easy by David Powers
Here is a book on PHP for people who don't need to be PHP gurus. Most books on the subject tend to assume that you want to learn to use the scripting language like a pro but there are plenty of web designers out there (myself included) for whom PHP is just a convenient way of making websites more modular and a bit dynamic. This book then, is for the rest of us.
In this book, David Powers doesn't blind us with esoteric code, he just gives us enough to do the simple stuff that will make the difference and turn our sites from dull, static affairs into interesting, dynamic places.
PHP Solutions: Dynamic Web Design Made Easy is available at Amazon.co.uk.
Also consider: PHP and MySQL for Dynamic Websites (2nd edition) by Larry Ullman
Although it's not one of our essential 10 web design books, every web designer should read Weaving the Web by the inventor of the web himself, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Although out of print, second hand copies are available for next to nothing. Worth reading, just so you know where it all started.