There are a lot of books on web development, and even more writing available for free online. You have to have something special to stand out in this market, and the latest to try is Smashing Book #3: Redesign The Web. Smashing Magazine used to be known for their ‘Top 50 Whatever’ lists, but in the last few years, as clones and competitors sprung up around them, they’ve carved out their own space online with quality practical writing, so I was keen to see what was in their latest book of original content.
A few disclosures before I begin: I received this book for free as a review copy; I have written professionally for Smashing Magazine; I know some of the contributors to this book on a social basis. With all of that said, this review is based on my honest opinion with as little conscious bias as possible. One more thing: I haven’t read the whole thing. I dip in and out of tech books so if I waited until I’d read every chapter, this review would be made long after release of the book. Caveats aside, here’s the review.
Redesign The Web is not only a practical title, it’s a call to arms. This book is a manifesto of modern web development, it wants us to start a new era of high professionalism and it’s showing us the way with new approaches to planning, design thinking, consideration for the user and coding best practices. Long-running TV shows often have jump-on episodes, where key plot points are resumed for the benefit of new viewers, and as a snapshot of the best writing about modern build methods, this book is a jump-on point for web development.
There are 11 chapters, which are broadly grouped into strategy, development, and design. Whatever your job, you should consider reading them all; as I’ve said in a previous post (which I now can’t find), if your job is making websites it’s not sufficient to know only your role, you must also have a good understanding of every stage of the build, from planning to delivery. This book will help with that.
The chapters are written in a way that’s clear, conversational, and often very technical but without being confusing; they’re like extended versions of articles written in the Smashing Magazine house style. Examples and code snippets have excellent clarity and make it easy to use for reference.
A few chapters of note: David Storey and Lea Verou do an admirable job of explaining the basics of CSS3, doing in 40 pages what took me half a book. Combining depth with brevity is a desirable skill, and I’m a little envious. Dmitry Fadeyev’s chapter shows some excellent and inspiring examples of good user experience, and covers the concept of UX admirably. The chapter I got most use from was Stephen Hay’s Workflow Redesigned, which posits an approach to modern web design which gave me lots of good ideas about my next project.
It’s beautifully designed, from the cover by Veerle Pieters to the animal-based illustrations by Kate McLelland, even down to the full-colour screenshots in every article, it’s an object worth buying and owning. If you have the paperback, it even smells great!
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I haven’t read it all; of the 11 chapters, I’ve still five to go. But even with that said, I can unreservedly recommend that you make this an addition to your bookshelf.