10 favourite web design books

As a break from reviewing new books, this is a quick list of older web design books which I’ve enjoyed a lot.

Web Design

Designing with Web Standards – I read the first edition of Jeffrey Zeldman’s book in 2003 when I was  pretty fed up with the unsatisfying business of learning endless display hacks for different browsers, which web design then seemed mainly to consist of.  I  liked the whole idea that web standards offered a more coherent future for web development and the author’s coherently-argued narrative and gradualist approach made it all seem more realisable.

The Zen of CSS Design – Really opened my eyes to what could be done with CSS. Lots of really pretty stuff.

Bulletproof Web Design and CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions – 2 very well-thumbed books on web design which I keep coming back to.

From a personal perspective, I’d like to include  The Art and Science of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen published back in 2000.  I borrowed this from the library at college in 2001 while doing an MSc in Information Systems. I read it through in an afternoon, totally caught up in it.  A lot of its advice is definitely outdated now, but it was well written and a great read at the time.

Usability

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Fun to read and re-read. A real-life feel to the examples and some great graphics and cartoons which you can use with clients or project team members to explain points.

Designing Web Usability– Another book which I read at college as part of a module on user interface design which focused mainly on web usability. I felt like I got more out of this book than from everything else in the module combined. It’s powerfully (if somewhat prescriptively) argued and made a great cover-to-cover read at the time.

Accessibility

Building Accessible Websites – Well written with a friendly authorial voice and a pragmatic approach to accessible design. Also had a nice selection of resources on the accompanying CD.

Search and navigation

Ambient findability – I always enjoy well-written stuff about search and this is one of the most satisfying reads on the subject.

Information Architecture for the Word Wide Web – I read the original (shorter) version at college and enjoyed it a lot – then read the second, much larger, edition a couple of years ago. A really comprehensive look at navigation and search which gives you a lot to think about.

Review: Universal Design for Web Applications

Universal Design for Web Applications summarises a unified approach for designing web content so that it works better for people with disabilities and users of mobile devices. The authors identify an “overlap in needs and constraints between mobile and accessibility design”. They propose “universal design” as an approach which deals with both to provide “the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people possible”.

The pairing of mobile design with accessible design is a neat way of improving the marketability of design techniques which help people with disabilities. There’s some nice points made about the similarities between the difficulties of web-browsing on an iPhone and the problems which people with fine-motor disabilities or less-than perfect-vision can have when browsing on a PC or Mac. The authors go so far as to say that: “It could be that the current crop of mobile devices is the best thing to happen to people with disabilities for a long time. When else have millions of people stood in line with $199 or €129 or £99 in hand to purchase a functional disability?”

With an admirable brevity, the book neatly summarises the basic techniques required to meet level A compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. There are chapters advising on metadata, separating design from structure with CSS, proper use of tables, video and audio, scripting accessible menus, accessible Ajax and Rich Internet Applications. The Ajax section includes an introduction to the basics of the W3C/WAI Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) specification. The final parts of the book include plenty of links to useful resources and a 20-point checklist of questions to ask about your site which could be of real practical benefit.

The authors avoid being too doctrinaire – for example, the use of layout tables in email design is pragmatically accepted, as email clients currently make it impossible to get predictable results out of CSS.

The book is a good little introduction to accessible design and newcomers to the field should get a lot out of it. Even readers who already know a lot about accessibility may find the odd tip which is useful to them, especially if they want to sell accessible design to clients via examples of its benefits to users of mobile devices.

Universal Design for Web Applications: Web Applications That Reach Everyone is by Wendy Chisholm and Matt May. It’s published by O’Reilly.