INDEX BY: Edition / Title
Learning Web Design – A Beginner’s Guide to HTML, Graphics and Beyond
By Jennifer Niederst
published in 2001 by O’Reilly Web Studio £24.95

Learning Web Design – A Beginner’s Guide to HTML, Graphics and Beyond

My initial impression from scanning the contents pages was that this book was focussed on the how to (HTML) rather than the why (design) of writing a web page. What I wanted from this book were examples of issues to consider, and examples of things to copy and to avoid - good practice and design nightmares.

Ms Niederst states that the core disciplines in the web design process are graphic design, interface design, information design, HTML production, programming and multimedia. This statement accounts for the apparent concentration of HTML in the contents pages. As I started to read the book, I was initially sceptical as how useful I (or anyone else) would find the information contained therein.

Well, I was wrong. Ms Niederst manages in a jaunty style to give straightforward and sensible design, HTML creation, and graphical manipulation advice. The tutorials are clear, concise and easy to follow for beginners. There is plenty of supplementary material in sidebars to enhance the learning experience or to stretch those with a bit more experience. I especially liked her jargon busting – beginners will now understand us and we have new ways of explaining jargon which has become so much a part of our language. I especially liked the fact that this book doesn’t assume everyone works in a Windows PC environment with one application. A selection of operating systems and web-authoring applications are considered and designed for.

And so to actually creating the HTML, the graphics and the features of the web page. The author also considers a variety of applications. She recommends that you don’t write all HTML longhand but use a dedicated application and shows you examples using Macromedia Dreamweaver 3, GoLive 4 (for Mac) and FrontPage 2000. She introduces the basics of HTML code because at some future time you will want to tweak code and progress in this field. The useful and abundant sidebars explain the applications’ more sophisticated-looking functions and features and how to use them to your best design advantage.

This technique also works well when considering the graphical elements. I thought the graphics sections were excellent. With a focus on making the graphics web friendly, from the basics of design issues to editing in these applications - Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Fireworks and JASC Paint Shop Pro - there is very little missed out here that the beginner or intermediate user would want to create a visually impressive, easy to navigate web page.

While still retaining the solid design advice, the book closes with tricks of the trade to jazz up your basic web site, and a taster of what else is out there – Cascading Style Sheets, DHTML, JavaScript – and advice on where to learn more in the ubiquitous sidebars.

I didn’t like this book unreservedly. I found the order of the chapters a bit disconcerting. Before we’ve even started HTML coding, we are shown how to load material onto a web server. This excellent step-by-step tutorial would be better placed after the creation of an initial web page. Where it is it will confuse and bewilder beginners. I didn’t like the often-used description “cool” – I think there are better adjectives. I would have liked greater references to the colour plates in the middle of the book.

“The true art of web design lies in the clever combination of the skills covered in this book” we are told. Despite my initial scepticism, I would want to add comprehensively to this sentence. I have been writing and designing web pages for a long time now, and have learnt from this book. I would have liked it all those years ago. I like its solid common sense approach, its jaunty style, its easy to follow tutorials and its acknowledgement that we don’t all work in one environment.

Solid design considerations and advice abound throughout this book. If you wanted a short, readable and easy-to-follow couple of chapters for students (and I use that term in its broadest possible sense) designing and building a web site, the 19 pages of Chapters 4 and 5 of this book would give them an excellent foundation in web design.

This book will not replace a web authoring package manual, or a graphics package manual but then it is not designed to do so. This book, however, will retain its value when those manuals are out of date. The issues contained within will not change with the latest version of software.

I would recommend this book as a complementary text to these manuals, as an excellent book for the library and as a core text book for any student intent on writing web pages.

Rosie Diver
Computing Officer
Liverpool John Moores University.