Web design books made from dead trees, eh? Things from the past! Haven’t you heard we’ve got that spangly new internet thing now? While you can find a whole world of information online, web design books show no signs of waning in popularity. When you’ve been glued to a screen all day, it can be great to sit back in a comfy chair with a fantastic web design book that can educate and illuminate.
The finest examples provide advice and insight in a manner that few single-shot website articles can compete with. Here leading designers, developers and web industry folk reveal their favourite web design books. The resulting selection is a collection of the very best insight into cutting-edge design and development techniques, inspirational texts, and beautiful volumes to admire.
- Also read: 30 books every graphic designers should read
01. Technically Wrong
Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Technically Wrong explores the (often invisible) biases, that shape the design and engineering of our software.
“Technology designed without considering the ways it can affect people from a multitude of backgrounds can sometimes have devastating consequences, as the book explores,” says Inayaili de León Persson. “Reading it has reinforced the idea that, as designers, we must actively strive to create products that are inclusive and truly consider the impact they will have on society. Since I read it, I always try to keep that in mind, in meetings, workshops, conversations, and to be vocal about those issues.”
02. Make it Now
Anthony Burrill’s Make it Now is a a beautiful compilation of his work, stretching from his student projects right through his career. “It’s a great inspiration to find your own voice,” says Fore Design‘s Dan Perrera. “He has a wonderful writing style – short sentences that get right to the point – which made the book a real pleasure to read. Most importantly though, it was a real motivator to bust through my doubts and get started on a project – now.”
03. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, blogger Mark Manson offers a self-help guide with a difference, suggesting we don’t need to be ‘positive’ all the time. It’s a favourite of Sush Kelly, who despite being a designer and developer, doesn’t often read technical books.
“I’ve had as many ‘a-ha’ moments reading it as I would when reading a book on something like CSS Grid,” he says. “With the constant stream of information from social, it’s easy to compare yourself with the prominent designers and developers you see. Not everyone can be exceptional: once you accept this and set your goals appropriately, life becomes much more satisfying. We have a limited amount of fucks to give in life; this book has helped me start to choose them wisely!”
04. The User Experience Team of One
The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley offers techniques and approaches to help you tackle UX when you don’t have much time or many resources.
“Like many other designers, I’ve had frustrations convincing certain clients of the value of UX resources and time on projects,” comments JH‘s Warren Challenger. “This book reminded me that I’m not alone in this fight: larger projects and budgets suffer in the same way. In the book, the author talks you through exercises and teaches you only to do what you need to complete your goals. You can achieve a lot when you remove the formal process: be more flexible and cut to the chase.”
05. Adaptive Web Design
Aaron Gustafson’s Adaptive Web Design helps you understand the history, mechanisms and practical application of progressive enhancement.
Jeffrey Zeldman heartily recommends it: “Coined by Steven Champeon of the Web Standards Project in the early 2000s, ‘progressive enhancement’ is the key idea behind standards-based web design. Both a method and a philosophy, it yields experiences that are accessible to all. Through mastery of progressive enhancement, we stop designing for browsers and start designing for people. No one has done a better, clearer, or more thorough job of illuminating progressive enhancement in all its richness than Gustafson… nor is anyone likely to.”
06. Inside the Nudge Unit
Inside the Nudge Unit by David Halpern explains how a team of behavioural economists set up the government’s Behavioural Insights Team, with the aim of helping people ‘better choices for themselves’. “I read this book at an important time; I was thinking a lot about psychology and design and how both seemed to be siloed,” says BehaviourStudio founder Lauren Kelly. “Reading this book solidified my ideas that behavioural insight should – and could – be brought into the design process.”
The premise behind this book is that everything we know about solving problems is wrong, and we should instead learn to rapidly experiment and adapt. Although not directly related to the web industry, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure’s general themes can be beneficial to all.
“Harford provides examples of how trial and error can be a more effective way to solve complex problems, and how trials can be structured to produce the best results,” explains social software consultant and writer Suw Charman-Anderson. Illustrated with examples such as the development of the Spitfire, and the financial crisis, Harford explores what environments encourage innovation and how that innovation can then be adopted and expanded.”
08. CSS3 for Web Designers
Dan Cederholm’s book aims to show how CSS3 is a “universe of creative possibilities”, providing insight into web fonts, advanced selectors and the many visual enhancements the technology can bring to web pages. A second, updated edition was published in 2015.
Eric Meyer, An Event Apart partner and co-founder, says: “With Dan you know you’re getting great visual design with a fun theme, wrapped around great technical information. This book delivers big time.”
09. Design is a Job
Design isn’t all about visuals, aesthetics, usability and crafting something beautiful. It’s also about all the things that surround that, enabling you to build a business. Mike Monteiro’s aim in this volume is to help you do that part of your job better, learning how to deal with clients and contracts. It’s ideal for designers looking to set up shop – or even those who have been running a business for a while.
“It’s basically a compilation of every wrong decision I’ve ever made in my decade of running a business, but it was also a major confidence-booster,” says Fore Design co-owner Amy Parker. “I’ve learned all the lessons of what not to do that Mike outlines in the book and figured out what to do instead.”
“After Mike’s brilliant ‘Fuck You. Pay Me‘ talk at Creative Mornings, it was a no-brainer to buy his book on the topics of contracts, selling design and dealing with clients – this is a must read,” adds creative director Mark Collins.
10. The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries and Laura Ries is one of the most influential books in Cheers Creative‘s Dana James Mwangi’s career.
“It was a huge shift in mindset for me, changed my company’s approach to web design, and increased the value of our offerings,” she says. “Just as Mercedes owns the word ‘luxury’, we want to help brands own a word in the minds of consumers. From aesthetic choices like colours and typefaces to tone of voice, 22 Laws helps us develop website strategy and design for clients with this aim in mind.”
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