A Book Apart is a series of 6 books aimed at ‘people who make websites’. These books are all relatively short (about 100 pages) and easy to read. At the time of writing they have a holiday special going – 30% off if you buy the whole series.
Since these books so short I’m going to do one review on the whole series – instead of doing 6 short ones.
HTML5 for Web Designers
This book introduces HTML5 in a very easy-to-read way. A brief history of how the standard came into being is followed by an explanation of the different players on the scene and how they all interact. While I’ve read a few articles about the history of HTML5 and what it means for the web it’s very nice to get such a straightforward and compact explanation.
Right from the outset all arguments are explained with very good code snippets – as a web developer I felt right at home and it was easy to follow.
The section I found most interesting was Web Forms 2.0 – which explained all the new types of input elements and attributes in HTML5. While I have looked at this before I had forgotten about some of them and others I didn’t understand correctly – which the examples in the book pointed out very well.
What I particularly appreciated about this book was that the author is highly opinionated – rather that simply stating all the facts about HTML5 he often steps in and calls certain practices bad or ‘just plain wrong’. It’s rare to come across this in reference books. HTML5 for Web Designers is a great read.
CSS3 for Web Designers
I was a little uncertain what to expect in CSS3 for Web Designers. I reckon I have a passing knowledge of CSS3 and thought I might get insight into a few styles or selectors I was previously unaware of. I think this little book probably did that (to a certain extent), but it also taught me a whole lot more.
CSS3 for Web Designers is packed with the ingredient developers love – examples. The book is based around a few excellent case studies which make it easy to follow and understand while also serving as great reference material.
I especially liked how the author uses CSS3 to extend the overall experience for browsers which support it while not breaking support for those which don’t. This concept is a recurring theme throughout all the examples.
This is all backed up with the great humor and strong opinions I liked in the first book. This is a great little book.
The Elements of Content Strategy
Having read the first 2 books in this series and come away with a very good impression I had high hopes for the next one. I didn’t really know what ‘Content Strategy’ was but I assumed it had something to do with structuring your HTML in a way that makes it easier for users to to access. Not quite so.
Content Strategy in this context refers to creating a strategy for a company to manage their online footprint. For example, a company might have a website, newsletter and blog which all need to convey a uniform message to the different users. Content Strategy (as I understand it) is about managing all of that.
This is a definite break in the overall theme of the series and one which I found rather confusing. Content Strategy seems to me to be a very niche market and definitely does not apply to me. While I could appreciate that the topic seems to be very well researched and the author definitely has a lot of experience on the matter, I couldn’t really see how this topic fits within the series. (Obviously not everyone agrees on this point since the book is in fact part of the series)
The only part of this book I found really memorable is the following quote:
The fact that anyone reads anything at all online is a demonstration of extraordinary hunger for content.
The book also doesn’t have the good humor of the first two and suffers from a distinct lack of good examples. I’m sorry to say I would recommend that others give this book a skip.
Responsive Web Design
I attended a presentation on responsive web design earlier in 2011 so I had a decent idea of what the concept is about. If you’ve never heard of responsive web design, it entails using a flexible layout and CSS media queries to design a website that works well across different screen resolutions and devices.
This book is the longest in the series (about 140 pages) and it’s possibly also the best. The entire book is a long illustrated example of designing a flexible and responsive website – starting with layouts, through flexible images and media, CSS media queries and finally discussing content strategies with a ‘mobile first’ focus.
The entire example flows incredibly well and you’re kept interested while not being overwhelmed by the amount of information. The author also has a very good sense of humor and I’ll admit that real laughter was produced at several points.
The detail of the overall example allows this book to function both as a learning and a reference guide. Two for the price of one – a great book.
Designing for Emotion
This book offers a very in-depth and focused look at designing a website that’s aimed at the user’s emotions, rather than simply being usable and reliable. I especially like that the author continually stresses the fact that the content and quality of that content is at the heart of the website – we’re not trying to cheat the user into buying something he/she doesn’t want.
While being very light on the practical side the book does offer a flowing discussion on the different aspects of designing for emotion – from human psychology to brand personality. It even offers suggestions on convincing your boss to incorporate emotional design into your website. What I really liked is that each aspect of the discussion is riddled with real-world examples – websites where the techniques being discussed have been very successful.
The author is very knowledgeable and the discussion is very compelling – something which is very difficult to maintain given that the topic is very subjective. He also had a very memorable quote which involves bacon:
Imagine eating a delicious four-pound log of bacon and not having the sense to eat another the next day. That’s a life not worth living, my friend.
Overall the arguments introduced are very solid and have all the real-world examples to back it all up. A definite winner.
Since mobile is such a hot topic nowadays I was really looking forward to this book and had some pretty high expectations. To be honest I’m not exactly sure this book really met those expectations.
As with all the books in this series, it’s very clear that the author is knowledgeable and the topic is very well researched. Overall the different topics donn’t really flow all that well and some of the discussions seem a bit jarring. Especially the first half of the book is a bit useless – there is so much discussion on how mobile is busy taking over the world, but very little is said about how we should actually design websites for it.
The second half of the book is much better and has some really good practical advice. Overall the book does have some really good and relevant examples and especially some of the finer details on designing navigation and managing input I found interesting and useful. However most of the discussions seem long-winded and I especially didn’t like how every chapter seems to end with a bullet-point summary – it feels like I’m reading a history textbook.
I do think that the book has more positive elements than negatives, but it seems that the author missed the opportunity to really get you excited about mobile development. There are also a few instances where I felt there was too much overlap with other books in the series while in other cases I felt it wasn’t quite linking up correctly with another book. This was also the first book in the series where the attempts at humor quite simply failed.
My overall rating: Meh.
Of the six books in this series four are fantastic reads, one is a bit average and one is confusing. Since you do get a great discount when buying all of them I would highly recommend you just buy all six and make up your own mind. Overall you definitely won’t be disappointed.
Usually for reference/technical books I go for a physical copy, but with these books I would probably recommend the e-books. They’re quite a bit cheaper and I don’t think the physical copy really adds any value.