Digital Reviewer

Learning Web Design

Niederst 2001Niederst, Jennifer, Learning Web Design: A Beginner’s Guide to HTML, Graphics, and BeyondO’Reilly, 2001

Niederst comes from a background as a web designer, and a teacher of web design. Aimed at the beginner, it also prepares the reader for more advanced work. She stresses that there is no need to learn everything, but that it is good to recognise the elements of a web page, so that they can be investigated further if required.

She assumes no knowledge of how the web works, and so defines the key terms and concepts to work with, including a good idea of how the web works. The book is a very strong visual ‘how to’ text, but there are also plenty of points to think about regarding functionality and usability. She is particularly strong on the use of HTML and optimising and utilising graphics at their best. Some of the topics she covers include the lack of control over how a web page is seen (‘the unknowns’), how to get a site onto the web, a list of do’s and don’ts for web design, helpful advice on organising a web site, and an introduction to advanced techniques. Throughout the text she refers to several different web authoring and graphics packages. A website accompanies this book. ( February 2002)

See also Web Design in a Nutshell (1999), and Designing for the Web : Getting started in a new medium (1996).

Digital Reviewer

The Elements of User Interface Design

Mandel 1997Mandel, Theo, The Elements of User Interface DesignWiley, 1997

Mandel trained as a cognitive psychologist. The book largely focuses on software application design and testing, but it was being recognised that the web was starting to have an impact, Chapter 16 focuses on the web, and a lot of the other design principles apply to web design. Interaction is defined for people by their past experience and expectations, and if something doesn’t work as expected, people tend to blame themselves rather than the product, so designers must ensure that their product works in a consistent manner. Mandel complains that magazines give the impression that it is easy to build web pages, which physically it is, but believes there is an art and a science to perfect a web site (not pages).

GUI interfaces for computers have added a time-delay factor, designers tends to play with the visual layout rather than focusing on the information, and what the product is trying to achieve. Define goals and information first, add design later. Designers must take into account the impact of memory, sensory systems of users should not be overloaded with, for instance, unnecessary animations. Designers must be user-focused, users used to have to adapt to systems, now there is a more common need for the system to adapt to the user; users can be given clues through the use of, for instance, visual metaphors. Now that the Internet has become more common, designs no longer need to be simply user-friendly, but should also be ‘user-seductive’. Goals must be realistic, achievable and testable.

Users want consistency across the web, but compromises are often needed, and designers should understand rules, but not follow them blindly, but know what they are breaking. Designs must be continually tested and reviewed to see if they work successfully, based in a sound structure, and the first site design is unlikely to be the last. Often web sites are based on TV models, but these don’t transfer successfully as the TV is a passive medium, whereas the web is an interactive medium, with a wide audience base with different skills sets, and differing paths should be offered for the new user, and the frequent user. There are new issues, such as legal and copyright, for web designers to deal with. (January 2002)

Buy from Amazon (yes, it’s still in print!)

Digital Reviewer

Web Pages That Suck

Web Pages That Suck 1998

Flanders, Vincent & Willis, Michael, Web Pages That Suck: Learn Good Design by Looking at Bad DesignSybex, 1998

Flanders was a webmaster for Lightspeed Net until 1997, having previously completed a degree focusing on the classical Greeks, where he appreciated the Greek ideas of moderation, proportion and beauty, which he feels can be applied to web design. He also taught HTML to various businesses, designing a website demonstrating bad design, so that his pupils would not repeat the same mistakes. This was so poplar it was converted to a book, with Willis, a designer. The book is still hugely popular, and is well illustrated with exemplars from both real companies (they stress they are not critical of the companies, just their site design) and sites created to demonstrate particular points.

A humorous approach to the writing has been taken, and the book is easy and fun to read, whilst being educational, with an unpretentious, to-the-point, style. They constantly stress the need to think before doing anything on the site, and are in favour of using what is needed to convey the message to the audience, rather than using all the technology available to web designers. Flanders & Willis define three purposes for sites, although the book is largely focused on making sales, establishing trust through a professional looking site, and getting the user to part with money. They emphasise the importance of a well structured site, with easy to find information, with the homepage particularly important as first impressions count. They deal with optimising download time, paying particular attention to graphics, on producing ‘sticky’ and communicative content, and on marketing and maintaining the site once the initial site is complete. A website accompanies this book. (January 2002)

See also Son of Web Pages That Suck: Learn Good Design by Looking at Bad Design (April 2002).