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ISSUE 600: Zisman


The high-tech office

ALAN ZISMAN

Learning Web-site design by the book

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 business.

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 right.

 

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 clear design.

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 and maintaining.

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.


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan