stoolpigeon writes "I remember the first time I saw a program I had written after the interface had been revamped by a designer. I had been pretty happy with what I had made. It worked very well and met the client's requirements. It was extremely functional and I thought it didn't look bad either. But when I saw the new interface, not functionally different, just so much better looking, I was really blown away. My application had gone from useful to cool. (That might be a slight exaggeration, it was still just a database app but it sure looked cool to me.) Since then I've learned to primarily leave the user interface work to the experts in that arena, and I stick to the getting the functionality in place. But sometimes I don't have the luxury of a design team at my disposal. Or when I do, I still need to be able to talk to them and discuss what is going on. I found Dr. Ji Young Park's new book "Visual Communication in Design" to be a friendly and accessible introductory primer in visual design." Read below for the rest of JR's review.Dr. Park teaches on web design and interactive media at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. His teaching background and interaction with students is a very strong part of the basis for this book. The book is designed to be studied sequentially. It deals with design theory and practice, moving from general topics towards the more specific. The information in 10 of the 12 chapters is accompanied by a "Design Studio" exercise for the reader to practice using the elements explained in the preceding chapter. Along with the examples in the chapters themselves, each design studio exercise provides examples of student work from exercises that followed the same guidelines as the one in the book. This means that this slender volume is full of white space, colors and illustrations. That may seem rather obvious, but it is important to note that the reader is not left to guess what the author means. There are always examples to show just what is being discussed. While there are not narrow definitions for right and wrong when it comes to the exercises, the examples do give a nice indication of what kind of work would be in the right direction.
Dr. Park takes the time to define the basic terminology of visual design. The first few chapters give a nice overview to the elements that make up graphic design and then the book delves more deeply into things like lines and colors finally moving towards typography and the considerations of print verses the web. Since I have no real formal education in graphic design myself, I took the book over to the graphic design team that works in my department. I asked them to look it over for accuracy and they said that it was somewhat basic content but accurate. That was what I needed to know. I didn't want to find myself in a discussion where a term like negative space was used, thinking that it meant something that it did not. The book deals with graphic arts in general, but as the title states, always brings it back around to a digital environment, primarily the web.
The sections that I found the most interesting, and that I will probably continue to visit, were those on layout design, how to impart motion and energy to still images and color. When I was a bachelor, I just bought my clothes to match what the mannequins were wearing at the store. Then I just always wore the same things together. Matching up colors and putting together good combinations is not my strong suit. I was able to learn a lot of handy rules of thumb and general principles as to how to use color. The ability to lay out the various elements and to present them in a balanced fashion is also key. This book provides me with a somewhat guided opportunity to keep working with these various elements and approaches to building interfaces that communicate with more than just plain text. This is exciting for me, especially when it comes to working on projects of my own. There are a lot of tools out there that will give a person a real jump on building a web app. The problem is, that the more popular solutions lead to hundreds or thousands of pages that all look pretty much the same. I feel like with some of the ideas and instruction from this book I have an opportunity to stand out, but not in a bad way.
The book does have one rather irksome shortcoming. There is no index. The table of contents does break things down to a very low level. Of course that does not put the contents into alphabetical order and so looking for a specific term leaves one to either flip through the book hoping, or to scan over the table of contents searching. This really limits the books use as a reference. It is much more a study guide due to that oversight. If it weren't for that I'd have seriously thought about rating the book 9 instead of 8.
The book is nicely printed, the 9.4x7.4 inch size is very easy to carry, keeps it slim, makes the pages large enough for the art and allows the book to lay open nicely without pages flipping over on their own. This is very useful for reading and trying things out at the same time. The treatment is broad and simple. I didn't want to get too deep, I just wanted to get me feet wet and gain a basic understanding of the issues involved in graphic design. The book does a great job of doing just that for the casual observer or beginner. It felt a little artsy and fuzzy at times, compared to what I normally read in technical books, but I guess that was the whole point.
Some of the observations that Dr. Park makes in regards to the associations that people make with certain colors, animals or other imagery are things that I think are pretty well known to be culturally subjective. For example when he states that "As bamboo is associated with moral uprightness and loftiness...", he is informing me of something that I did not know. I'm willing to guess that a lot of people don't know that and I don't think I would ever assume it in communication. But I think readers will be able to easily discern these types of observation and take to heart the underlying lesson of taking into account these types of associations in their target audience.
There are a lot of resources out there for learning how to create attractive and functional interfaces on the web and in other mediums. I think there is also ample evidence that a lot of people are creating applications that show a lack of research or understanding in this area. I think it would be well worth the time of any developer who is hoping to build that next great world-changing application to take the time to do some research and studying at the very least on the level that Visual Communication in Digital Design provides. Or, for those of us who are fortunate enough to have co-workers who have spent extensive time studying and practicing the art of visual design, this provides a nice guide to foster communication if you will. I feel like I can keep up better and stay involved in meetings, where in the past I would have just mentally checked out until things returned to my side of the court. If you feel less equipped than you ought to be in either case, this could be a simple way to gain a little understanding and ability.
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