Best Books on Web Design

Anyone who gets to know me as a web designer/developer will soon realize that I’m a bit of a zealot when it comes to clean design. I’m a programming “purist” who believes that real rewards come from doing things right the first time. I try religiously to follow the K.I.S.S. (“Keep It Simple, Stupid!”) Principle, eshewing the newest and fanciest trends unless they involve simplification.

I like to write HTML code by hand, carefully thinking about whether a tag should be given a DOM id or class, and whether that adds semantic meaning or not. I think the ultimate web site should operate in Lynx beautifully, and that the markup of graphical web pages in tables—teaching a generation of graphic designers to design-and-slice in Photoshop—was a horrible practice.

There were two books that, three-to-four years ago, really inspired me and made it possible for me to use careful XHTML+CSS design in my web work. I know that four years is like two decades in “web years” but these books are still timely, and one is just about to receive an update!

the Zen of CSS design

A non-technical book, The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Voices That Matter) by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag is a sort of “companion coffee-table book” to the famous CSS Zen Garden. The Zen Garden was an experiment by which people were challenged to design creative new looks to a standard simple set of HTML. It was a way of inspiring people as early as 2003 to embrace CSS as a viable technology for freeing HTML markup from the ugliness that had become commonplace.

I stated that this is a “non-technical book” and should qualify that. It actually has a fair amount of technical discussion—like discussing how to incorporate PNG images while maintaining browser compatibility, and useful techniques for taking advantage of image transparency—but you will be hard-pressed to find a sinlge snippet of CSS or HTML.

CSS Mastery

Where the Zen of CSS Design stop short of the nuts-and-bolds technical CSS education, CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions by Andy Budd picks things up nicely. This is one of the best-written computer books I’ve ever read. The structure and language are so clear that I consumed it from cover to cover in a matter of hours! I love the emphasis on using existing HTML elements like lists for navigation bars with full graphical appearance and roll-over functionality. This is one of those books that I still look through on a regular basis.

The only disadvantage to this book is that, at the time of writing, Internet Explorer 7 had not been released yet, and a fair amount of time was spent talking about Netscape Navigator and IE5 for Windows and IE5.5 for Mac, and there was no mention of Safari or Opera.

Since much of real-life CSS work has to do with cross-browser support, an update to this book is sorely needed and guess what? It’s coming out in a few months! 

If you can wait, pre-order CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions, Second Edition now. If you can’t wait, plan to buy both.

Over time I will write about other books I’ve found valuable for web designers, beginning and advanced. And hopefully a new generation of designers will be inspired to create clean, simple web sites.

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