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Keywords: Web design, HTML, CSS, graphic design
Title: The Non-Designer's Web Book, 3e
Author: Robin Williams and John Tollett
Publisher: Peachpit Press
Verdict: Useful to the absolute beginner but not enough to be recommended.
Building a web page is easy - anyone with a text editor or even a word processor can knock up a simple page or two. Building web pages that look good, are easy to navigate and look like they've been designed rather than randomly thrown together is a bit harder. This book, now into a third edition, aims to help the uninitiated learn to design and construct professional looking, exciting web sites from scratch.
The tricky part of this is that there are two different streams of activity to think about. The first is the mechanics of web page design - in other words the HTML, CSS, graphics and other elements needed to generate a page - and the other is the thought-process required to do the design. These are very different activities, and trying to tackle the two together is no mean feat. Unfortunately the book is not entirely successful in doing both.
Firstly the book assumes no real knowledge of the web. This means that there's coverage of some of even the most basic ideas - for example explaining what a web page is, explaining how to use a search engine and so on. This takes time and establishes a very low base-line for the rest of the book to build on. It also means the authors adopt a tone that is patronising at times.
There's also a lot of focus on authoring, with an emphasis on specific tools: Dreamweaver, Photoshop etc. While there's mention of some open source tools, many of the examples stick to Dreamweaver. It's also assumed that you'll want to steer clear of writing code - there's little in the way of core HTML, XHTML and CSS coding. Indeed, the emphasis throughout is firmly on using WYSIWYG authoring tools.
There's coverage of all of the core activities you'd need to create your web site, from adding to images to site navigation, uploading pages to submitting to search engines. Things like the trade-offs between different graphics formats - JPEG vs GIF, for example - also get a decent airing.
However, while there's coverage of all of the mechanics, there's a lack of depth to a lot of it. Much depends on the use of specific tools, particularly Photoshop for graphics.
On the other hand, the book also includes useful advice on the design side of things. There is discussion of colour palettes, typography issues, using a site-wide look and feel and so on. This is by far the more interesting and useful part of the book, and yet it's almost squeezed out by the needs to show the reader how to 'do things'.
And, given the emphasis on design, the layout of the book looks a bit gimmicky. There's plenty of colour, but the pages look overly busy with side-bars, asides and other material.
In the end this is a hard book to recommend. There are other books that give a better grounding in the mechanics of HTML and CSS (Spring Into HTML and CSS is recommended), and even on the design side there are books which provide similar levels of information (see Learning Web Design for a good example). For someone who wants to start building a web site from scratch then this might be a useful purchase, but for everybody else is there are better places to start than this.