The Web Designer’s Idea Book Volume 2 review

28 Jul 2011

There is this book I've been reading a while ago called 'The Web Designer's Idea Book Volume 2' that I want to talk about in today's post. As the title says, it's the 2nd edition. I didn't read the 1st edition though, so I can't really compare, but I did enjoy this edition. Secondly, I should also mention that this book has been published a while ago, months ago actually. I've been reading it on and off… mostly at the hairdresser (Yes, I know!). Not that this means this book didn't trigger my interest enough. Not at all…just lack of time.

The main focus and structure

This book is full of practical advice and guidance on what the design possibilities are to create a website, and ideas on how you can create an eye-catching design with the limitations of the web in mind. Every chapter contains a lot of screenshots that the author has carefully picked out. He gives a short analyses of these sites in relation to the chapter's topic, ending with a practical note from a developer. This book is a bit of a lightweight compared to the books I usually read on the topic of web design. Most books involve practical code techniques, with some hand-on examples and sometimes demo files. This one however is totally different, and is more of an introduction or a source of inspiration for the web/UX designer, or for people who want to get a better insight on web design in general. Here is a short overview of each of the chapters of the book:

Inspiration

Starting with the topic of inspiration, guest author Marko Prljic shows us how you can create a fresh new design from other inspiring designs.

Basic principles of design

In chapter 2 Patrick takes us through the different basic design principles. Going from emphasis, contrast and balance to alignment, repetition and flow. Showing us practical examples of each of them. Keeping these basic principles in mind, chances are we create a design that feels well executed.

The Web Designer Idea Book Volume 2 sample pages

Sites by type

Chapter 3 is about the different types of sites, and what the different criteria are to keep in mind when designing such sites. Through this chapter Marko analyzes the common factors of each one of them. iPhone application sites are very focussed and usually very well designed. They are like mini e-commerce sites. A site of a freelance designer needs to shine in its uniqueness and needs to show professionalism, trust and reliability. A common denominator on music band websites is the important role of social media and the need for visual style or language, as branding is very important for these kind of sites. As for blog sites, it's important to grab the user's attention to start reading a post. Using related images is one way of doing this. Furthermore, subscribing (to RSS), commenting and sharing are most important aspects in the design. Personal sites are more focussed on the personal side of life together with some social media aspects. However, they can include a touch of business by showing some portfolio pieces. Design firm sites are very challenging as the possibilities are without limits and finding the right balance between good functionality and an appealing presentation can be hard. Event sites usually follow a thematic design, following the topic of the event, and are heavy on the graphics.

And so the list of type sites goes on. We get to read about travel and tourism sites, e-commerce, business card, web utility, web software, real estate, portfolios, coming soon, t-shirt and directory sites.

Each type design has notes from the developer including practical tips, although there was one occasion (chapter 4, Lighting) where I find the tip not being up-to-date with today's techniques, as there is CSS3 and I also don't think we need to consider any PNG hacking.

Sites by design elements

In chapter 4 we get to read about 'sites by design elements', starting with 'the pitch' which is a valuable tool that can be used for rapidly communicating the purpose of the site, the business or service. The clarity of the message and the design is vital. One of the topics is about the importance of icons and their quick communicating power. Then another very important design element is the typography, which if well executed can elevate a site to another level. Though, the note from the developer runs a bit behind on what's typographically possible today and doesn't mention services like Typekit or Fontdeck.

The Web Designer Idea Book Volume 2 sample pages

Sites by style and themes

After explaining the subtle differences between design 'style' and design 'theme' you get an introduction to a wide range going from ultra clean and minimal to illustrated, type-focussed, collage style and others styles and themes. You get to learn why certain styles or themes work and are better received than others, and how they are best applied.

Sites by structural styles

In this chapter the author confronts us with the two sides: one side is driven to break the rules of convention and still find a workable solution, and the other one dictates that doing anything that falls outside these conventions is "atypical" and creates wrong or poor usability. What's so good about this topic is that it forces us to reconsider things. People who know me a little bit will know that I'm all for sparking the creativity by reconsidering these conventions, and to bend the rules a bit. Topics covered in this chapter are, atypical navigation, atypical layouts, pseudo-flash, horizontal scrolling and one-page sites.

Sites by structural elements

Here the design approach is broken down by its function. Different design elements are being discussed in this chapter, going from tabs, to buttons, form elements, footers, 404 pages etc. One of the topics in this section is 'helpful homepages' which is a topic that can fill a book on its own. You only get to see a small set of successful examples within a sea of endless possibilities. It comes down to focus on the consumers and what they want most out of your site. Trying to create a design so that the user can find the content faster.

Conclusion

It's this type of book that you can read whenever you want, and where it doesn't really matter if you take your time as the subject and the writing style is really light. It reads pretty easy, and gives a good analysis on how the content of a web site should look, be organized and structured. The book is also an overall good design inspiration, where the author guides you through all these example sites pointing out the one thing that sets it apart. Even though the notes from the developer are practical and meaningful, I do feel that a lot of them are running behind on what is possible today, which is probably due to the timing on when the book was written. They are also often rather basic for the more experienced web designer. Still, I think they make a valuable part of the book, and so they are definitely a nice extra. Same goes for the examples given, as a lot of the sites have already changed their design by now. Even though, the focus of the book leans towards showcasing and analyzing the design of the given example sites, I think it certainly has its value for people who want to get a better insight of the design of a website. Wouldn't be a bad book for clients too that want to understand us web designers and the decisions we make.

Where to buy

You can buy the book in my Amazon store. You can also read other people's reviews on this page. There is also a $6.99 iPad app available on iTunes that combines The Web Designer's Idea Book Volume 1 and 2. More on the The Web Designer's Idea App.

Comments

  1. 1 Paul 02 Aug 2011

    I’ve read both the first and the second edition. Spectacular books.

    The structural styles and structural elements sections were very informative, and I still employ the information I learned from the book in my work.