ISSUE 600: Zisman
The high-tech office
Learning Web-site design by
By now, we've all seen billions and billions of
Web pages. Some immediately work, some don't. Some are effective, some
aren't. I suspect that most of us work for organizations that have Web
pages, and many of us have our own Web pages. Hopefully, most of them
work but it's likely many don't.
Here are three books that try to help us make sure
that our Web sites grab viewers' attention, successfully hold their
attention and get the point across:
Laura Lemay's Guide to Sizzling Web Site Design
(Sams.net, ISBN 1-57521-221-8 $63.95) is actually by Molly Holzschlag.
Lemay, author of a variety of books on Web publishing, is series
editor. It's a full-colour book that does a good job of picking out
exemplary sites in a variety of categories: print media, entertainment,
learning, lifestyle, technology, travel, food, kids and business and
analyzes why they work well.
In the context of these sites, it raises all the right
questions: knowing your audience, finding the appropriate balance
between technology, design, efficiency and more. It points out the
behind-the-scenes tricks used by its sample sites.
This book is now a couple of years old. In the
fast-paced Internet world, it may be hard to find and the Web sites it
mentions have probably all been redesigned several times. While it
won't teach novices what they need to know to start from scratch, the
book's suggestions are still fresh.
Web Pages that Suck takes the opposite
approach. In this book (Sybex, ISBN 0-7821-2187-X, $60) and at www.webpagesthatsuck.com,
Vincent Flanders and Michael Willis
promise to help users "learn good design by looking at bad design." To
a large extent, they succeed. The book pulls no punches and includes
sites ranging from large corporations to small nonprofits in its
samples of pages that suck.
They make clear that their focus is on "The most
important question you can ask about your Web site: Why would anybody
in their right mind visit my site a third, fourth or fifth time?"
This is especially important for business sites, where
creating repeat customers is the only way to end up with a profitable
The book is not merely negative, however. After
looking at a site with problems, the authors study how to fix it and
often contrast it to one or more sites where the same things are done
Author Robin Williams (no, not the comedian)
has made a career of teaching the principles of design to nondesigners.
With The Non-Designer's Web Book, now in an expanded second
edition (Peachpit Press, IBN 0-201-71038-2, $52.50), she and co-author John
Tollett expand this mandate to cover what it takes to create,
design and post a Web site.
This book starts from scratch, explaining the basics.
It goes on to look at how designing for print is different from
designing for the Web, but then points out some universal principles of
There's a good section on creating a site with a clear
interface and understandable navigation, followed by long sections on
working with images and type, before ending with a chapter on uploading
All three books are colourful and easy to read.
The Non-Designers Web Book is probably the best
choice if this is your first Web site, while the other two are better
for learning to look for what's wrong with your existing site and how
to make it better.
While Web Pages that Suck is the book with the
most attitude, it's also the only one of the three that moves beyond
design to consider content, at least a little bit. How your site looks
and works is important, but so is what it says.
More on that next week.