The Smashing Book in Review
Does the The Smashing Book Live Up to the Hype?
Smashing Magazine is one of the largest web design and development blogs online. They publish high quality content on a regular basis and are often seen as one of the most reliable sources within the industry. When they started kicking around the idea of creating a book the community widely encouraged it. After much talk the idea of creating a book, The Smashing Book, became a reality and Smashing Magazine went to work. To say that it was a difficult process for Smashing Magazine would be an understatement. As with every project they had their fair amount of roadblocks and then some. Regardless of what was put in from of them Smashing Magazine managed to release a book filled with excellent content written by none other than their own community.
Each chapter is written by a different author or authors, of which has appeared on Smashing Magazine before. Perhaps they have written an article for the blog before or maybe they have appeared within the articles themselves. The authors of the book are well established within the community and are experts in their line of work. Each chapter is well crafted to the personal style of the author(s) and is packed with valued content. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we.
The preface to The Smashing Book was very short and there was no introduction chapter disclaiming who the book is or is not for. The book does not waste anytime and quickly gets right to the content. I loved the fact that I did not have to wade through a chapter with an unnecessary introduction. Perfect!
Chapter 1 – User Interface Design in Modern Web Applications by Dmitry Fadeyev
The first chapter, User Interface Design in Modern Web Applications, written by Dmitry Fadeyev was a great opening to the book. Dmitry starts out by giving us an overview of the building blocks of visual interface design and how they relate to developing a quality application. In doing so, he covers things such as layout and positioning, size and shape, as well as color, contrast, and texture. Moving from building blocks into the practical techniques Dmitry discusses how different elements of a user interface can play a large part in the success of a web application. A few of the design techniques he mentions include whitespace, rounded corners, color, shadows, and more. He also touches on other elements outside of design including using verbs as field labels, auto focusing inputs, using help messages, and so forth. I won’t give all of Dmitry’s techniques away as this is definitely a chapter worth your while.
“Even if someone uses an interface for the first time, certain elements can still be familiar.” Excerpt from Chapter 1
Chapter 2 – The Art and Science of CSS-Layouts by Jacob Gube and Kayla Knight
Jacob Gube and Kayla Knight tackle The Art and Science of CSS-Layouts in the second chapter of the book. They explain the differences between fixed-width, fluid, elastic, and hybrid CSS-layouts. The chapter gives a detailed explanation of each layout type along with the pros and cons behind each. Their explanations include the basic principles behind each layout type as well as where each layout type is most commonly suitable. Apart from the solid explanations the chapter also provides a few CSS examples to get you started. Some people may argue against different types of CSS-layouts but after giving this chapter a read I believe you may be more open minded to giving other layout types a try.
“The question of optimal layout doesn’t have a single answer. Depending on the context, the time constraints and designer’s skills, each layout type has its purpose.” Excerpt from Chapter 2
Chapter 3 – Web Typography: Rules, Guidelines, and Common Mistakes by Alessandro Cattaneo, Yves Peters and Jon Tan
Web typography has been a hot topic as of lately, so it is no surprise that the third chapter, Web Typography: Rules, Guidelines, and Common Mistakes, was a massive one. I understand the idea of covering a different aspect of web design and development in each chapter, but I feel like this chapter could have been split into two as it is nearly twice as big as all of the other chapters. That being said the content of this chapter was superb.
When it comes to web typography there is a lot to talk about and Alessandro Cattaneo, Yves Peters and Jon Tan leave no stone unturned. They discuss different elements of typography such as legibility, readability, measure, tracking, and leading, as well as giving us an overview of all of the different typography terms and what they actually mean. Beyond this they also talk about the different techniques used within typography to really add value to the content. They do so by talking about font sizes, white space, building a grid, vertical rhythm, hierarchy, typesetting, paying attention to details, and so forth. It is obvious the authors of this chapter know what they are talking about and whether you are a seasoned typographer or a beginner there is something to learn from within this chapter.
“In its essence, typography is a powerful medium that allows for precise, effective communication. On the Web, typography can be used to enhance content, turning lifeless chunks of data into vivid, elegant conversations.” Excerpt from Chapter 3
Chapter 4 – Usability Principles for Modern Websites by Andrew Maier and David Leggett
Chapter four, Usability Principles for Modern Websites, comes from some of the good folks over at UX Booth, Andrew Maier and David Leggett. Really breaking down the core elements for usability within modern websites is a challenge. Doing it within one chapter is an even bigger challenge, kudos to Andrew and David for pulling it off successfully. The chapter covers everything from how users think to how important user testing is. Along the way you learn about some of the core usability rules and principles including putting content first, honoring standard usability conventions, and how to really plan out and design your interface. This chapter is jammed packed with information, worthy of a second read to pick up on things missed the first time around.
“Creating a great user experience takes a little bit of skill, a little bit of luck and a lot of detailed work.” Excerpt from Chapter 4
Chapter 5 – The Ultimate Guide to Fantastic Color Usage in Web Design, Usability, and Experience by Darius A Monsef IV
Color just may be the most under rated element when it comes to web design. All too often designers are given a logo and from that they pick a few complimentary colors and run with it. Darius A Monsef IV explains how to pick great colors in chapter five, The Ultimate Guide to Fantastic Color Usage in Web Design, Usability, and Experience. Darius give us the basics on color theory and explains the different color models commonly used today. From there he quickly moves on to providing fantastic examples of different color schemes and palettes used within modern websites today. The examples are amazing and it is obvious that quite a bit of time went into finding the examples. Furthermore, Darius finished the chapter by explaining how different colors can relate to usability, engagement, and experience. It is difficult to say, but this chapter just might be my favorite.
“Even when your website has a lot of colors, you can draw users to a certain element by giving that element a color unique to the page.” Excerpt from Chapter 5
Chapter 6 – Performance Optimization for Websites by Rene Schmidt
“Slow and unresponsive web sites are annoying. And if your website is annoying, your visitors are unlikely to buy goods or contact you.” Excerpt from Chapter 6
Chapter 7 – Design to Sell: Increasing Conversion Rates by Dmitry Fadeyev
Dmitry Fadeyev, whom also wrote the first chapter, tackles how to increase your conversion rates online in chapter seven, Design to Sell: Increasing Conversion Rates. Dmitry talks about the 4 principles needed to increase conversions, attention, interest, desire, action, or AIDA for short. In doing so he outlines quite a few recommendations including really showing the product (possibly using video to do so) to users, provide users with comprehensible lists, give back to users who convert, add testimonials and product recommendations, always provide the next requested action, drive demand with limited time offers, promote money back guarantees, provide shipping cost, and most importantly make your interface instinctual and easy to use. Dmitry does a great job explaining his recommendations and the benefits behind them, making this chapter especially educational.
“You need to break down the barriers that customers will put up when evaluating how valuable your product is to them.” Excerpt from Chapter 7
Chapter 8 – How to Turn a Site into a Remarkable Brand by Chris Spooner
Inside chapter eight, How to Turn a Site into a Remarkable Brand, Chris Spooner gives readers 5 guidelines or tips on how to make your website memorable and your brand stand out. The first guideline covered is to produce a unique design by using stunning visuals and breaking the mold while still following universal design principles. The next guideline is based on producing quality content that is not only interesting, but useful as well. The third guideline focuses on exploring new concepts, being unique, and making your brand entertaining. The fourth guideline is something we can all agree with, become part of the community. Last, Chris talks about building a buzz around your brand by advertising, creating link bait, and really getting inside people’s heads. Chris has created a solid brand for himself and within this chapter he does a great job of sharing how he built his brand, allowing us to learn from him.
“Building a remarkable brand takes constant and daily effort and attention. Be confident in your content, help others, spread the word and you’ll be on your way to a remarkable high-profile brand of your own.” Excerpt from Chapter 8
Chapter 9 – Learning from Experts: Interviews and Insights by Steven Snell
Chapter nine, Learning from Experts: Interviews and Insights, by Steven Snell is kind of an odd chapter, however very helpful. The chapter basically breaks down into a question and answer with some of the top designers and developers in the industry including Jason Santa Maria, Paul Boag, Andy Budd, Elliot Jay Stocks, Chris Coyier, Dave Shea, Nick La, and more. The questions are broken into 4 categories: Designing and Development, The Design Process, Self-Improvement and Skill Development, and Business and Freelancing. The questions and answers are both well thought out and descriptive. While this chapter is not the most exciting chapter in the book it is very interesting and a great way to bring together what has been talked about in all of the previous chapters.
“Web design is still relatively new when compared to the rest of the disciplines in the ‘big d’ design field.” Excerpt from Chapter 9
Chapter 10 – Behind the Curtains: The Smashing Magazine Story
The final chapter, Behind the Curtains: The Smashing Magazine Story, is an excellent way to close the book. For those strictly reading the book to learn about web design and development this chapter probably is not for you, but those who are genuinely interested in Smashing Magazine and would like to learn about them this is the time. This chapter covers it all including how Smashing Magazine started, exactly how they got to be as successful as they are and how they stay successful, as well as what happens behind the scenes. Last, Smashing Magazine thanks everyone within the web design community, stating if it was not for us they would not be where they are today. I would personally like to say the same. I would not be where I am today if it was not for the help of Smashing Magazine, thank you Smashing Magazine.
“Our job is not only to contribute to the design community but to help maintain this fertile environment in which ideas are born, insights are exchanged and discussions take place, making the lives of designers and developers easier and richer.” Excerpt from Chapter 10
9 Stars Out of 10
The content of the book is next to none. All of the chapters are greatly detailed and well written. I cannot say enough about the authors and content of the book. My problem with the book is the amount of time it took to release as well as the physical quality of the book. I pre-ordered the book on August 5, 2009 and did not receive it until January 2, 2010, almost five months later. Smashing Magazine has been admirably honest and admits they had numerous setbacks while publishing the book. I also recognize that I did pre-order the book, at which time the release date was not set.
As for the physical quality of the book, the binding on the book fell apart. During the course of reading the book the binding began to split and pages started to fall out. Luckily, Smashing Magazine has recognized the bad binding and have stopped shipping this version of the book. They have fixed the binding and are now strictly shipping the second, fixed binding, edition of the book. Smashing Magazine was nice enough to send me a copy of the new edition of the book upon hearing my troubles.
In all, the book is outstanding and I highly recommend picking it up! It does not matter if you’re a veteran designer or new to the scene, you can definitely benefit from purchasing this book. Thank you Smashing Magazine for yet another satisfying experience.
You may view the all of the links and resources included within the book over at Smashing Magazines list of links.