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O'Reilly's Learning Web Design

Author: Jennifer Niederst     Publisher: O'Reilly

Reviewed by Mark West

There's a lot more to designing web sites than the average person expects. A good web developer has to be a Jack of all design trades. Basic knowledge in graphic design, user interfaces and information flow are a few important general skills required. O'Reilly's new book Learning Web Design by Jennifer Niederst gives an excellent introduction to many of the topics need to start web design.

The book is organized into four sections. The first section entitled "Getting Started" introduces the reader to a range of general topics. The first chapter briefly covered graphics design, writing skills and information layouts. Detailed information on these topics is beyond the scope of the book, but the author recommends other sources to expand on these topics. Also covered in the first section of this book is how the web works, the ins and outs of FTP, how to register domain names and hosting services. She also includes a very important chapter in this section on the differences between web design and print design. This was one of my stumbling blocks when I first started web design. The final chapter of this section is on the web design process. My favorite piece of advice in this chapter is, get it right on paper first. From experience, I can promise you this will save you lots of time.

Part II is dedicated to learning the HTML command set. Formatting text, adding graphics and links, frames, color and using tables to design the layout of your page are given a chapter each. The chapters cover the individual tags and their uses. For beginners there are several examples demonstrating the use of these tags. Included with the sample code are several screen shots of programs the author uses. Sadly all of these programs are commercial programs. The author does not recommend any shareware or freeware web design programs.

Part III contains a graphic overview. The author discusses the two main graphic formats used on the web, GIF and JPEG. Topics covered in this section include advice on when to use each format and how to utilizing the browser's cache. I found the section on optimizing graphics fascinating. I had not considered the concept of designing graphics for minimal colors. This needs to be taken into consideration if someone has set their desktop to less than 16M colors. The author includes several hints on using aliasing, transparency, compression and softening to optimize graphics for browsers.

Part IV is my favorite. This section covers design techniques, building usability into your web site and basic dos and don'ts. In Design Techniques, the author covers many aspects to increase the aesthetics of your site. Several pages are dedicated to the one pixel square formatting trick. I've personally found many uses for the one pixel square, and this book has given me several more ideas. In the section on usability, the author makes a great statement "An architect designs not just the building, but the visitors experience walking through it. Similarly, a web designer needs to consider the user's experience of "moving through" the site." Consideration of the user's experience of a web site can easily be lost in the design process. The author takes you through several design aspects using a fictional web site. Starting with a poorly designed site, she walks you through how to change it into a well designed site, giving examples throughout the chapter. Also discussed are techniques for navigating through a site and the arrangement of information to assist seekers. The chapter on designs dos and don'ts is set up as a review of the main topics of the book. She gives tips for text formatting tips, design work, graphics and others as a quick list. This is perfect for a quick reference when you sit down to start your web design.

The last chapter in the book is an introduction to many advanced techniques used on the web today. Forms, audio, video, and Javascript are some of the topics introduced in this chapter. This chapter contains very little information but as I stated earlier this is in a book on the basics.

The designer has laid out this book in an excellent way to present its' information. The book contains plenty of white spaces so the reader does not feel over-whelmed. Notes are placed in the margin to expand the basic information. An elementary teacher once told me to teach something new you 1) state what they going to teach 2) teach the subject 3) review what you just taught. Learning web design utilizes this format by for stating the key topics in the margin at the first of each chapter and a review section that highlights the key points of the chapter.

I recommend this book for any beginning web designer. The book covers everything you need to start your project in a basic, concise manner. The average person can out grow this book relatively soon but, the author recommends several other sources to continue your education if desired. For an overall beginner's guide this is one of the best I have read.

Mark West is the President of Adept Computing Solution. If you have any comments or topics you would like covered you can contact Mark at

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

July, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN