The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
By Jason Beaird
Publisher: SitePoint Pty. Ltd.
Price: $39.95 (PDF only, $29.95; hard copy + PDF, $49.90)
Page count: 180
Here’s a clue for you: designer Jason Beaird’s The Principles of Beautiful Web Design showed up in my mailbox shortly after publication this past April, and the first thing I did was drop everything and read it from cover to cover. For the record, I build Web sites myself and have a number of art and design classes to my credit. Jason Beaird paid a lot more attention to his teachers, and it shows.
At the time his book arrived, I’d just finished a crash self-taught “course” in CSS and was anxious to jump into a new project. Never again would I use a table-based layout, but by then my head was so full of new coding conventions that there wasn’t any room for art. What Jason’s book did was re-open my eyes to the underlying principles of design that explain the way our senses contribute to conveying and comprehending information. After just a few pages, I was back inside that special creative space I remember from painting class, ready to taste the thrill of spreading that first brush-load of color across the canvas.
Answering the question of “who should read this book,” the author writes:
“If you are squeamish about choosing colors, feel uninspired by a blank browser window, or get lost trying to choose the right font, this book is for you. In it, I take a methodical approach to presenting traditional graphic design theory as it applies to today’s web site development industry. While the content is directed toward programmers and developers, it provides a design primer that will benefit readers at any level.”
Chapter headings are Layout and Composition, Color, Texture, Typography, and Imagery. After a good initial grounding in each of these areas, Jason applies the principles he’s just discussed to relevant stages in the construction of a client’s Web site (“Florida Country Tile”), and readers can follow the development of this site throughout the book. For me, the best thing about this underlying theme is the insight it provides into the author’s thought processes as he approaches a particular design problem. You might not always agree with his solutions, but his reasoning may open your eyes to strategies that haven’t occurred to you.
One note of caution: this is NOT a CSS how-to book! While Jason does provide examples of code and URLs to a number of very helpful sites, he doesn’t fill in every blank. In a discussion of various ways to create rounded corners, for example, he first offers his thoughts on a designer’s reasons for choosing rounded corners and then directs the reader to specific examples and the online resources required to create them. I appreciated this approach because pages of geek-babble would be difficult to read and end up turning me off. In fact, keeping in mind my own project — a new Web site for a local realtor — I considered everything Jason had to say about the aesthetics of rounded corners and decided I didn’t need them. I also visited the sites he recommended for round corner CSS solutions and added several of them to my bookmarks. Keep in mind, however, that this book deals mostly with principles of Web design, as promised by the title, and is intended to inspire your imagination. For all the little nuts and bolts, you’re going to have to do a little digging on your own.
In a reviewer’s world where everything must be measured against perfection, that counts against a flawless score. So too do a few of the one-line personal anecdotes that dot the narrative. The ones I mean seem oddly-chosen, even inappropriate, and I wonder that his editors left them in. For example, I don’t need to know that a former professor of his with a heavy accent used to mispronounce the Rule of Thirds a certain way I leave to adolescent speculation. It doesn’t have a thing to do with building Web sites and doesn’t bring me any closer to absorbing grid theory, which I still resist.
But those are quibbles. As I said in the beginning, when this book arrived on my doorstep, I dropped everything and read it from cover to cover. In fact, I want to read it again. At its core, this book is a mini-course in traditional design theory that any number of Web designers who skipped that part of their education could certainly use. I took a whole year’s worth of basic design at a respectable college, and Jason’s own version is better than that. Also, applying deeper principles of aesthetics to Web page construction just feels good. It puts the designer on a firmer, broader, more human foundation. Besides that, it’s just plain fun — nothing so specific as “using purple and yellow together makes goats throw up,” but it does give your imagination a boost after learning just why certain combinations (to name just one single dynamic) make you feel the way they do. After reading this book, you may feel like revisiting your own sites and giving them a whole new look, and I guarantee that you’ll approach the next job in a different way.
Finally, this book has an excellent Web site at SitePoint Books, which is why I’ve omitted page scans here. I’m awarding this book a MyMac.com rating of 4 out of 5, and I really am already in the process of reading it again.