The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird is aimed at developers who want to learn how to make websites look more attractive. The 5 chapters each cover one of the pillars of graphic design theory: Layout, Color, Texture, Typography, and Imagery. Full-color and packed with lots of great examples, the book contains screenshots from dozens of modern websites to illustrate graphic design principles. A cumulative case-study ends each chapter, where the author shows you how the theories he just explained can be applied to a real site he is developing for a client.
Except for some CSS sprinkled here and there, the book contains no code. Don't look for tips on creating 3-column layouts or other stylesheet wizardry, because you won't find it here. The author assumes that you know how to take an image mock-up and convert it into an HTML/CSS document. This is a strong point of the book, since the focus can remain on graphic design techniques and not unnecessary code listings Additionally, there isn't much discussion of tool usage. A few examples use Photoshop, but the book focuses mostly on theory and case studies, not step-by-step program tutorials.
The book starts with Layout and Composition. If you have ever wondered why some websites just look better organized than others, this chapter will explain why. Beaird discusses the concepts of grid theory, and how using the golden ratio to divide page elements can improve the visual appeal. Plenty of examples are given that illustrate the principles of balance, unity, and emphasis.
The Color chapter contains my favorite example, where Beaird uses different versions of the same drawing to describe monochromatic, analogous, and complementary colors. As with the previous chapter on layout, this part of the book does an excellent job of teaching you how to learn from attractive websites, instead of mindlessly imitating them. Color is a hard topic to understand, but there are some good tips here that teach readers how to create an appealing palette for a website.
Relying solely on solid colors and grid layouts can make a website look flat. The Texture chapter discusses ways to use style and make your designs much more eye catching. This chapter is probably the most "Web 2.0" chapter in the book. Gel buttons, gradients, and backgrounds are all discussed.
Imagery is the subject of the final chapter, and the book ends on a disappointing note. Very little of this section is about the graphic design principles behind imagery. Rather, precious pages are dedicated to discussing various license agreements and tips on finding stock photos. This is useful information, but it should have been relegated to a sidebar at the most. The chapter focuses almost entirely on images as content and not as design elements. If you want to know how to make images in a blog post look pretty, there are some ideas here (drop-shadows, borders). But there is no information about how to work images into a page header or navigation menu. How do I determine if an image matches my color scheme? How can images spice up a design without going overboard? These were just some of the questions I had going into this chapter that were left unanswered. The Texture chapter hinted at these ideas with examples, but I wanted to see a deeper explanation of the underlying principles.
The book is a little short at 180 pages, but that's not as bad as it may seem. Those of us accustomed to reading 800-page tomes on programming tend to forget how much content can be packed into a book when the author doesn't have to waste 300 pages listing code, 200 pages on the API, and 150 pages on an index.
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design is a good book to kick start your graphic-design journey. The biggest benefit that I got from this book is the knowledge to learn from great designs as opposed to just admiring them in a state of awe. The book could have been a little longer, and some of the topics could have been discussed in more detail. This book won't teach you everything, but it's a good place to start and it will leave you excited about learning more.
Trent Lucier is a software engineer. He is the creator of ChessUp, a tool for creating chess diagrams online.
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