I just finished Brian Miller’s new book Above The Fold: Understanding The Principals of Successful Web Site Design. It’s a great read for aspiring web designers who are looking to start taking on professional projects. In fact, my only complaint (if you can call it that) is that I wish it was longer. At 255 pages already, that’s more of a compliment than anything. Brian clearly put a lot of thought and careful consideration into the structure, content and flow of the book. It’s well done. I usually re-sell the books I buy on amazon when I’m done, but I’m planning on keeping this one.
I’ve been building websites for 4 or 5 years now and this is the first book I’ve found that does a good job of walking the reader through the entire thought process of planning and creating a structured strategy for designing websites. If you’re sold on the idea that smart thinking and great design thrive on a methodical approach, this book will delight you. That said, it’s not a how-to book on building code or using tools like Photoshop, so if you’re just getting into web design and you’re itching to learn specific skills for building stuff, you’ll probably want to hold off on buying this for now and come back to it later when you’re ready to start doing professional projects. Just do so knowing that, when you do eventually come back and read it, you’ll probably kick yourself for not reading it first ;-).
For those of you interested in buying the book, here’s a quick list of pros and cons:
- There’s zero fluff-factor. Brian did a solid job of explaining things simply and succinctly and moving on. Every page gets straight to the point. You’ll get through it quickly without feeling like you wasted any time.
- It’s easy on the eyes. There are plenty of visuals to support the content. If you surf though CSS galleries a lot looking for inspiration for your projects, you’ll also get a lot of value just from flipping through the pages.
- It’s an ideal start for aspiring design professionals because it provides a comprehensive, horizontal look at the design process end to end. If your goal is to learn how to manage big design projects, the book helps you develop an essential vocabulary and a broad awareness of things you need to consider (and why you do) before you get started.
- The information in some sections is a little “light”. I said at the beginning of this post that I wished the book was longer. And again, I’ll say that at 255 pages, that’s not really a knock. There’s plenty of great info to chew on. The book was clearly designed for breadth, rather than depth, which is why it succeeds in giving the reader a complete and broad awareness of the design process. Depth needed to be sacrificed in order to cover everything. Entire books have been written on each topic covered in this book (like SEO, usability etc). The good news is that being aware that these are critical steps in the process will aid you in your search for deeper dives into how this stuff is done.
- No suggestions for further reading. Recognizing that this book was designed for breadth, it would have been useful to have had a short list of suggested resources in each section to guide the reader to deep dives. For example, Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us includes a vetted list of “further reading” after every section. This isn’t a make or break by any means, it’s just a nice to have.
So in wrapping up I just want to acknowledge one last thing. Funny enough, I actually found this book while searching the iPad app store for web design tools. It has an accompanying iPad app with a neat grid building function and a few short interviews with Brian that are tied into a sample of the first chapter. If you’re still wondering whether this book might be for you and you have an iPad, download the app. It’s only a buck, the tools are neat and it’s a great way to figure out whether you want to spend an extra $20 on the paperback. I doubt you’ll be disappointed with either. The paperback is collection-worthy.