Edition cover

  • ISBN10: 0975841963
  • ISBN13: 9780975841969
  • Paperback
  • 180 pages
  • SitePoint

The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
by Jason Beaird

Reviewed by reynard

Rating: 5 out of 5

  • Posted 14 years ago
  • Viewed 20949 times, 1 comment
  • Average user rating: (4.2/5)

Reasons to be beautiful

Aimed primarily at Web developers and programmers who want to expand their knowledge of design and the design process, Jason Beaird's Principles of Beautiful Web Design is a great entry point for those wanting to know what it is exactly designers do and why one's own websites often look, well, a bit pedestrian.

Over five chapters Beaird explains the basics of design theory as well as what he sees to be the key principles of beautiful Web design. Much of the first three chapters concerning layout and composition, colour and texture is reasonably generic and is informative about the design process as a whole. Only the last two chapters are technical in the sense of talking specifically about CSS and Photoshop, so even non-techies shouldn't be too put off.

As someone who's worked with the Web for a number of years I was a little concerned that at best this book would underline what I already knew or at worst encourage people into bad habits, elevating aesthetics over standards, usability and accessibility. Neither was the case I'm glad to say; actually it showed me how little I actually knew about Web design and coming from the Sitepoint stable I should have known there would be a clear commitment to promoting web standards and stressing the centrality of content. Design is placed in context as one of the factors which make a successful website.

I found the definition and explanation of design terms and concepts particularly enlightening; Beaird gives an overview of concepts such as the rule of thirds and the "divine proportion" which produce aesthetically pleasing results when applied to artistic composition. Chapter two's dip into colour theory was also very interesting. In addition to learning about colour wheels and additive and subtractive colour models, I now know the difference between a shade and a tint. Working out which colours go well together can sometimes appear intuitive but it's a great advantage to know why they work and what other colours you can also use to build up your palette.

Beaird discusses current trends as well as general principles For instance, I'm glad he makes the case for right hand navigation; I've always found it slightly more intuitive. The thorny issue of fixed versus liquid layouts is also discussed. Views on this seem to change with the weather, although fixed widths seem to be the odds on favourites at the moment; not least I suspect because they are still easier to build in CSS in addition to giving the designer more control. The "variable fixed width" layout might be an emerging compromise: a design which has its layout determined by the user's browser size.

Of course, no contemporary book on Web design could escape discussing rounded corners.There are pointers to various methods on the Web, ranging from the horrific (in terms of semantic HTML) to the more acceptable.Typography on the Web is still very limited; nonetheless we get an entire chapter dedicated to it. In addition to covering the commonly available font families and contemporary techniques such as sIFR, we also get an in depth description of the anatomy of a font. This is clearly one of the author's favourite areas. I imagine that coders will already be familiar with the less esoteric sections of this chapter as they will with parts of the last chapter, "Imagery". Imagery? Is this really what he means? Surely, "images" would have been a more suitable title.

Pedantry aside, this chapter will probably be of most use to the uninitiated in its discussion of where to obtain images. I now have a list of stock photography sites to investigate for my next design project (which looks it will be my own site now I know what I've done wrong). We're also told what not to do; i.e. don't steal others' work, or worse link to files on their site ("Google ganking"). Beaird also gives us a short Photoshop tutorial on creating borders and edges and discusses CSS effects that can be applied.I'd be hard pushed to find any real criticisms of this book. One thing that made me baulk slightly was the suggestion that you use the blockquote element to create emphasis on a page (p.22) when really the only justified use of this is to mark up quotations. Secondly I would have found some information on how designers create graphics interesting; but this is probably beyond the scope of the book.

At under 165 pages, this book can only serve as an introduction to Web design. It also won't make you a designer, although it will at least give you some ideas of what works and why it works, and what doesn't. It's an inspiring book however, and it left me really wanting to try out some of the ideas. It's also very encouraging in that it doesn't just tell you to watch and learn from the professionals but to use your own personality and background.

Specialisation is something that has been taking hold of the Web in the last few years with a clear attempt to draw lines between programmers, front-end coders and designers. As anyone who works in the area will know, in reality it is hard to enforce these divisions; designers need to know their HTML and CSS (as does clearly the author of this book); front-end coders can make good layout designers and can benefit from understanding back-end code and how web servers work; back-end programmers need to know their front-end code and understand design, especially if they are to avoid the horrors of what I refer to as "programmer's HTML", that nasty mess of unseemly and unsemantic code that they so often produce if left unsupervised, not to mention some of the crimes against design decency they can be responsible for. In this respect, any book that helps to inform the blurs round the edges should be welcomed.

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prologue says:

nice review. i have been looking for a good book on web design. thanks.

#1 Posted 12 years ago

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