The Joy of Web Design Books | August 23, 2006

Many people complain that the majority of information found in computer books is already available online. If you’re searching for answers to a specific question and know where to look, this is probably true. However if you’re after a detailed overview of a subject, you’ll need to look across a wide spectrum of sites, and it becomes increasingly difficult to build up a cohesive and authoritative picture.

The web tends to be very broad, but not very deep. This is particularly true of blog posts, which are oftern short, targeted writings around a very specific subject. Many blogs have a general theme, so an entire collection of post can produce a reasonable amount of depth. However there tends not to be a narrative joining posts together, or an overriding message or purpose. As such, blogs posts are much more a collection of vaguely interconnected ideas, than a well thought out and considered treatise.

This is where books come in. With months to consider a problem, the skilled author has time to create a narrative the joins a collection of ideas together into a meaningful proposition. Rather than hunting around for snippets of information, a well thought out book can allow the reader to dive right in and understand a fairly complex set of issues relatively quickly.

There are some great web design books around at the moment, and even more waiting in the wings. Over the next few days I’m going to list some of the books I’ve bought recently, some I’m looking forward to buying and some of the hottest new releases.

Posted at August 23, 2006 8:25 PM


Max said on August 23, 2006 10:40 PM

Fantastic idea! I work as a web developer mainly working on the company Intranet, and ‘d love to see some professional reviews of some good books! I’d esecially like to see some design and development lifecycle methodologies. I used IEEE Requirements and Design specs for software engineering but these don’t really translate well to web design and development. Is there an equivalent life cycle for this discipline?

Jeff said on August 23, 2006 11:23 PM

I think you hit it right on. I agree that you can find info if you know where to look but nothing beats a really good book. Blog posts can be random but books take more thought and organization.

I look forward to hearing from you about books you would recommend.

Small Paul said on August 23, 2006 11:27 PM

I find that the books I like the most give me what I can only describe as (and I honestly apologise for how pretentious this sounds) a conceptual overview of a language. I mean two things:

1. They let me know, honestly, what the language is good for, and good at - and likewise, what it’s bad for, and bad at.

2. They help me learn how to think in the language. Computer languages, just like human ones, are as much a way of thinking - a way of conceiving the world - as anything else. To be able to use a language well to solve problems, knowing how to think in a language is the foundation upon which knowledge of the language can build.

The best book for the last point that I’ve ever read is the classic Mastering Regular Expressions. It takes all of two paragraphs, but telling you how to think in regular expressions totally opens the door to getting somewhere with them.

Amanda Kern said on August 24, 2006 12:56 AM

I agree completely. The tough part about books for technology is that it changes SO fast so the best books I have found and kept (even as technology changes) focus more on learning concepts and not just a tutorial on how to do something step by step.

P.S. Be sure to add your CSS Mastery book to that list you are making - it’s a keeper!

Nick Toye said on August 24, 2006 9:04 AM

The web is vast sure, and the information is out there…somewhere.

But as a certain political comedian from the 80’s once labelled Sky TV as “a thinner spread of the s**t”

I have learnt everything I know from books, if it was good enough for the early scholars its good enough for me.

Plus you don’t get annoying survey ads flying across your book, which can only be a good thing.

I’ll look forward to reading the book reviews.

Leesy said on August 24, 2006 9:46 AM

I’m also looking for what books you think are worthwhile Andy. I know I brought your book (which is excellent btw) through a recommendation on another developer’s blog. It would be nice to see what you are looking out for.

Another trouble about internet research that nobody mentioned is the time it takes to find what you need. With a book you walk to your shelf, flip to the index and then you have what you need. With the internet it tends to be a case of 5 minutes Googling for the correct page, 10 minutes reading through a few articles but not finding what you need before you hit what you need.

Nate K said on August 24, 2006 1:15 PM

I agree with you 110%. I have read 6 books in the last 2 months (one of which was CSS Mastery ;) - and they are invaluable resources. Yes, there are some things you can find on websites - but it is not exhaustive, and many times could even be dated. Books, on the other hand, give you the assurance of fresh material presented in an easier way where you don’t have to search and scour the WWW.

I, too, await what books you would suggest. I just got 2 in the mail yesterday - so I have to finishg them first :)

dandyna said on August 24, 2006 4:47 PM

Then, you can bring your book wherever with you and make people see you’re a web geek ;) I love reading technical books. They go so much deeper than free “webmaster tools” websites

Brian said on August 24, 2006 4:55 PM

I would also like to say thanks so much for CSS Mastery. I’d learned a lot from the web, but your book was extremely helpful in helping me work out the kinks as well as set up a way to manage my CSS so I understand what I am doing (still getting this part under control). I too am excited to see what you deem “great web design books.”

Tony Geer said on August 25, 2006 2:20 PM

I have mixed feelings about this. For example, when I was learning Java I went out and bought a book about it.

But for web design, I think buying a book is hardly worth it, with a few exceptions (like CSS Mastery, which I haven’t finished as yet). For example, if I’m looking for image replacement techniques, if I google around I’ll more than likely find a blog post with lots of comments and suggestions, as in SimpleBits’ Accessible Image-Tab Rollovers, which is something I wouldnt find in a book.

I recently finished Bullet Proof Webdesign and found it as dissapointing in terms of content as it was pretty, but I think I’ll go on more if/when you post about it.

John Oxton said on September 1, 2006 2:38 PM

I largely disagree.

For one it depends on the individual and how they learn. I, for example, have a tendency to learn by trial and error rather than a more academic approach of read book then apply; so the web and it’s “snippets? suits me really well.

Your reasoning, I feel, is also more to do with motives than the the technology. The web is perfectly capable of supporting the depth of information a book can. In fact after my experiences with writing for print, I would suggest a web site is capable of greater depth simply due to it’s flexibility and ability to link to resources, examples etc. With a little skill (and the help of a decent CMS) you could also design this information to be digested in a way that suits the reader too, something you can’t do with a book.

I think that the problem, for want of a better word, is that a book helps position people as experts. Books are very powerful in this respect and people like to have them as to show that they are the leader in the field and they can prove it with the book they have written.

Books work well for some people and they have a tactile quality the web doesn’t and that’s fine. I just think you are mistaken in your belief that a book is in some way better.

Eckbert Heinenberg said on September 6, 2006 5:10 AM

“Talent is not enough” - sure!

But reading books whithout talent is nothing…..