I learned web development the good old-fashioned way: through peering at the source code of those who came before me and testing out new ideas through trial and error. But that isn’t to say I haven’t ever picked up a book on web design in my decade-plus of web work (good gracious, has it been that long already?). In fact, I’ve read quite a few web-related books in my time, and many of them have inspired me to look at my job in entirely new ways. And in spirit of sharing, here are five of the books that have most inspired me (click the images to get your own copy!).
Designing With Web Standards – Jeffrey Zeldman
Jeffrey Zeldman’s webzine A List Apart was one of the first places where I ever began to grasp the fundamentals of (and the fundamental need for) web standards. Thus, when I heard that Zeldman was going to be coming out with a book on the subject, I could barely wait to get hold of a copy. In fact, I’m currently on my second copy of the book, as I wore out my first copy while working on my Master’s thesis. The book is a treasure trove of information on how to design websites the right way – with standards in mind. Designing With Web Standards is in its second edition now, and while I’ve only ever read the first edition, I’m more than willing to recommend you pick up a copy.
Don’t Make Me Think – Steve Krug
Web usability needn’t be a scary or complicated topic – just pick up a copy of Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think for all the evidence you’ll ever need. If you’re one of those designers who still thinks that usability is a great idea – for those companies that have seven-figure design budgets, that is – then this book can be a real eye-opener. Web usability doesn’t require a million-dollar lab or a fancy-dancy study. It just requires an understanding of how people really use the web. And Krug will set you down that path of understanding. My copy is riddled with bookmarks and notes in the margin – a sign that it has earned its place on my bookshelf.
Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web – Christina Wodtke
Before I picked up a copy of Christina Wodtke’s book, my web design process looked a little like this: Concept –> Development –> Redevelopment –> Re-redevelopment. Then I saw a copy of Information Architecture in my college’s new media lab, skimmed a few chapters, and liked it enough to pick up a copy of my own. Wodtke’s book was the first real look I got at the process of developing a website the right way – the idea of sitting down and planning out what the customer needed, what the users wanted, and how I would negotiate the path between the two. This is a great read if you’re just starting out on your own.
Bulletproof Web Design – Dan Cederholm
Dan Cederholm’s Bulletproof Web Design is a must-have for any modern web designer. In it Cederholm proves, chapter by chapter, that having a site built using web standards doesn’t mean you have to give up on your site behaving itself properly. His techniques allow you to develop websites that look just as good in IE as they do in Firefox – and in the cases where some functionality simply doesn’t translate from one to the other, how to ensure your website degrades nicely. I have no fewer than eighteen bookmarks stuck throughout this book, and turn to them often when I’m trying to remember precisely how to pull of certain techniques.
The Zen of CSS Design – Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag
Is there really any better resource on the web for learning to push the CSS envelope than the CSS Zen Garden? Well, the book version of the Garden takes those fantastic visual examples and breaks them down, discusses their various techniques, and explains how some of the fancier footwork was accomplished. This book has been a great resource for me over the last couple of years, seeing as how I’m much more of a developer than a designer. Sometimes it helps to be able to analyze the work of others to understand how I might apply such techniques to my own work.
Those of you with an astute eye might have noticed that all five of these books have something in common – they were all published by New Riders. As far as I’m concerned New Riders is the go-to publisher when I’m looking for a new web design book. Their topics are interesting, their writers entertaining, and their quality is always top-notch. And if anyone from New Riders happens to read this, keep me in mind, eh? :)