A Web Design Reference

There are many books available that teach Web site layout techniques. I don’t mean the ones that show you how to properly code HTML or CSS. I’m talking about the actual designing of the site itself. Many of them are a bit cumbersome and dry, unless you’re into design theory. Most Web designers/developers just want to understand how to design an effective Web site without having to get an advanced college degree, yet still create one that will meet the customer’s needs. The Design of Sites: Patterns for Creating Winning Web Sites is one of those books.

The publisher describes the book as “the definitive reference for the principles, patterns, methodologies, and best practices underlying exceptional Web design.” That’s a pretty bold claim but it’s one I agree with. Considering that the book is over 1,000 pages, that’s a lot of detail. And don’t let that lead you into thinking that this book is dry and hard to read. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The Beginnings
The book starts with a section titled “Foundations of Web Site Design.” (The first chapter of this section, “Customer-Centered Web Design: More Than a Good Idea,” is available on the WebReference.com Web site.) This section gives good coverage of the basics needed for effective site design. The focus of all of this is the customer. In fact, the authors coined the term customer-centered design. Everything — content, ease of use, performance, satisfaction, brand value — is all viewed from the customer’s point-of-view. While search engines are important, it’s nice to see that they are not the focus of this book.

The Heart of the Matter
The majority of the book (approximately three-quarters of it) is focused on what the authors call ‘patterns.’ These patterns are defined in Chapter 2 as, “insights into design problems, capturing the essence of the problems and their solutions in a compact form.” Once again, don’t think that this is some kind of intellectual exercise. As is further stated, the patterns work by describing the problem in depth, the rationale is given for the solution, then the authors look at how to apply the solution, and, finally, some of the trade-offs in applying the solution are stated. These patterns consist of several topics which cover the entire Web site:

  • Site Genres
  • Creating a Navigation Framework
  • Creating a Powerful Homepage
  • Writing and Managing Content
  • Building Trust and Credibility
  • Basic E-Commerce
  • Advanced E-Commerce
  • Helping Customers Complete Tasks
  • Design Effective Page Layouts
  • Making Site Search Fast and Relevent
  • Making Navigation Easy
  • Speeding Up Your Site
  • The Mobile Web

This section uses a unique color-coding scheme to refer to other parts of the section. It’s basically a cross-reference system. For instance, in the the sub-section “Category Pages (B8),” in the chapter “Creating a Navigation Framework,” one of the headings is “Maintain Consistent Navigation.” This then has cross-references to (J1) and (K3). Each of these sub-sections cover additional related material: J1 – “Search Action Module;” K3: “Tab Rows.” In the context of the material in (B8), these relate very well. There are many of these cross-references throughout the section, making it a very useful tool.

The Wrap-Up
The book has five appendixes covering usability evaluations, sample plans and forms, and online research. In addition, an exhaustive glossary is included, as well as a detailed list of all the resources used in each chapter. These sections provide an additional wealth of information beyond what the book itself provides.

The book is designed to be used as a reference. It’s unnecessary to read it from cover to cover before implementing the practices put forth. If you need to get a better understanding of how to process online orders, just flip to the chapter on basic e-commerce. From there, all relevent topics are cross-referenced. The subject can be further narrowed within each chapter, using the sub-topics.

If you’re looking to get a grasp on building effective, customer-centered, Web sites, this book will be an excellent addition to your reference shelf. Don’t let its size scare you; that’s what makes it so valuable. The wealth of material provided here would cost a small fortune if you were to obtain it from other sources. And it’s available here in an easy-to read form.

AUTHOR:Douglas K. van Duyne, James A. Landay, Jason I. Hong
Total Pages: 1,024
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Copyright: 2007
ISBN: 0131345559

Adapted from webreference.com.

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