I feel that I have a strong grasp on (X)HTML, CSS, and the concepts that go along with it. I try to study techniques as much as possible, analyzing my process and trying to determine if I’m doing the right thing. When it comes to Web design, the technical aspect is only half of the process. Mastering visual design on the Web is an area in which I feel I could greatly improve upon.
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird of jasongraphix is a fairly new SitePoint publication slated by Jason “to present what I know about design in a way that anyone can understand and apply.” As a broad reaction I can say that Jason absolutely accomplished his goal with this book.
Chapter 1: Layout and Composition
This chapter focuses primarily on various layout techniques that have proved successful in Web design. Jason focuses a lot of the chapter on grid theory, which serves as a strong foundation for many great looking websites.
This chapter also introduces a project that will be used throughout the book to provide a visual example of what is being discussed. This has been a bit of a trend in the past few books I’ve read and I honestly think it works out well. When used properly, it can really help to get your point across to readers no matter if they’re technical or visual learners.
Reading through this chapter was very vocab-oriented, as much of the book is. It helps newcomers to start using design related jargon properly from the start. While it may be a bit redundant for design students who have already taken many classes, it will prove to be immensely valuable to those who haven’t.
Various layout techniques are also discussed including multiple columns and fixed width vs. fluid designs. The pros and cons of each are discussed and then the material is applied to the working example.
Chapter 2: Color
Chapter 2 goes into quite a bit of detail regarding color; especially color on the screen. Jason takes the time to explain the difference between RGB colors as well as CMYK and why both are important to take into consideration with design.
Color wheels and various color schemes are nicely outlined and discussed in detail in order to help readers truly understand the variations between them. Lots of screenshots are used to illustrate the various color schemes which really helps to visualize what is happening on the color wheel.
Chapter 3: Texture
The Texture chapter continues in the tradition established in chapters 1 and 2. Jason uses his easy to understand writing style and language choice to explain some choice vocabulary words while applying them to visual examples.
Points, line, shape, volume and depth are just a few of the terms explained in this chapter. More detail is reached in this chapter as far as actual CSS is concerned in that pattern application is discussed using a style sheet.
Some design styles are also discussed here that make good use of various textures. From that Wicked Worn Look, to Web 2.0, Jason devotes a few pages to really dissecting some popular designs as of late. There’s also a short Photoshop tutorial on creating your own custom repeating backgrounds which will be quite useful to some newcomers.
Chapter 4: Typography
I’m officially a sucker for typography. This chapter starts out by discussing the common Web safe fonts and why we’re “limited” to using them. sIFR is spoken of as an acceptable alternative to using images to achieve custom type on the Web.
The chapter then goes on to discuss in fair detail the actual structure of type and outlines some of the many terms used to describe various elements within characters. Other associated terms are discussed as well, such as spacing, and then they’re applied to the Web using their CSS equivalents.
There is quite a bit of information offered on typography in Web design, and at the end of the chapter, Jason describes how his knowledge of type was applied to the ongoing project referenced throughout the book.
Chapter 5: Imagery
Imagery is quite prevalent in Web design and usually is a major focal point of any design. This chapter discusses image use as well as different image formats and even goes into detail about various forms of stock imagery.
This chapter also includes a bit of detailed instruction that can be applied in Photoshop. The tutorials are designed to help you to use the best possible image for your design after cropping and touch ups are taken into consideration.
Conclusions and overall impression
Overall, I think The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird is a great book to read for those who wish to start off on the right foot when it comes to Web design. It’s also a good read for designers who would like to research improving their current methods by reading a book written by someone who has excelled in the medium.
There is a good balance between design focused sections as well as sections that include the technical application of the technique or theory. Jason is a great writer, and the book is quite easy to read. It’s put together wonderfully, including many full color screenshots and other forms of imagery that make the book a pleasure to read. I’d definitely recommend the book to anyone in Web design.