Books for Starting Web Designers

I’ve been asked to do the difficult task of recommending books of how to learn good web design by a few people lately. It’s difficult for several reasons. First, there are a number of quality books out there, it makes it hard to keep the list short. Second, this industry has changed and grown so much during the time I started designing web sites (late ’90s) that a lot that I read starting out is dated and no longer considered “best practices.” Lastly, the particular knowledge of the reader needs to come into play. Does the reader have any experience at all with designing web pages? Is their background more design or development?

To keep this short, I’m limiting my selection to only three books. With that said, here’s other criteria I heavily weighted in making my selections:

  1. Books aimed toward the designer and not the developer
  2. Assume the audience has very little experience with web design
  3. The three books should give a well-rounded exposure to good web design
  4. Limit selections to books I’m personally familiar with

With those factors in consideration, here’s what I recommend:
DWWS cover

Designing with Web Standards by Jeffery Zeldman

A must have for anyone wanting to learn the proper way to design and build web sites. This book does an excellent job of explaining why web standards and CSS is vital to effective web site design and development. Once you understand the “why,” the “how” falls into place nicely. It compares the options out there and how web standards and CSS are vastly superior to them. The second half of the book gives a nice walk-through of the basics of CSS and how to properly execute it.

According to Zeldman, the book is aimed toward the company decision-makers and why they should embrace standards. I believe anyone associated with designing, building or making any type of decisions regarding web sites needs to read this book.
Web Designers Reference cover

Web Designer’s Reference by Craig Grannell

This book is exactly what it claims to be — a step-by-step approach to the different aspects of building a web site. this book covers everything from basic layout, typography, working with images, and adding multimedia. There are several CSS reference books out there. To me, what makes this one stand out is that it’s written with the designer in mind instead of the programmer. Meaning, it’s easy to read, follow, and find what you’re looking for. Another thing that stands out from this book that I find missing in others, is that Grannell covers the little things that make a difference in a well-built site. A few he covers are robot visits, using PHP for mail forms, and comments. These things won’t necessarily ruin a site if not present, but it adds those little things that are often overlooked.
Web Standards Solutions cover

Web Standards Solutions by Dan Cederholm

Web Standards Solutions has its origins from the entries posted on Dan’s personal web site, where I personally learned a lot of the nuances of web standards. Its not surprising, then, that I found this book a great tool for CSS-based design. Dan uses a lot of what I like in the previous books I recommend. Like Zeldman, he begins with explaining the why of using web standards. And like Grennell, he writes with the designer in mind and uses a step-by-step approach in explaining the execution of standards in web design. What I like about Dan’s book is that he covers some areas either missing from the first two, or covered in much greater detail (forms, image replacement, print styles).

There’s my top three recommendations for learning web standards and CSS. Again, there are a number of other books out there that are helpful as well, but these three are a great place to start. If you get a good handle of the material covered in these three books, your skills in designing and developing web sites will put you in a small, elite class of designers.

For the web designers out there that are using CSS and standards currently, I’d like to hear which books have helped you or that you would recommend in addition to these three. Leave a comment and let me know.