Issue #59

Last Update September 23, 2008

Technology Beautiful Web Design by David Katz June 18, 2007  It is hard to write a book on a technological subject. It is often either so detailed that it puts the reader to sleep, or is interestingly written but uninformative. The Principles of Beautiful Web Design, by Jason Beaird, avoids these pitfalls by being focussed on a single task, and never wavering from that focus. The task is to instill in the reader an appreciation for good web design, and to describe the principles that promote web beauty. The book succeeds. 

The first chapter, Layout and Composition, describes design principles that apply not only to web sites, but to all good commercial art (and much fine art as well). This chapter is really the heart of the book. The succeeding chapters, Color, Texture, Typography and Imagery, take the good over-all design established in the Layout and Composition chapter and show how to add interest and avoid disharmony by dealing well with compositional; elements. This book is extremely well organized; the language is clear, and, best of all, the copious examples are to the point. 

In describing the design process, Mr. Beaird emphasizes the need to actually understand the purposes the website is supposed to fulfill. The design supports the purpose. As Mr. Breaird says, “Users are pleased by the design, but drawn to the content.” Guided by the Pythagorean “golden ratio”, he provides sensible rules for page layout, and discusses balance, unity, proximity, repetition, emphasis, repetition, placement, isolation, contrast and proportion as concepts in guiding the viewer to the correct perception of page content. These concepts are illustrated in the book, and URLs (web addresses) are given to real web sites exemplifying good design. In fact, one of the most valuable aspects of this book are the many URLs provided for examples and additional resources. 

Once the basic concepts of layout and composition have been explored, more detailed discussions follow. The chapter on typography, discussing fonts and font families, is one of the best brief descriptions of the history and current state of the typographic art I have ever encountered. Especially useful are the distinctions made between print typography and the constraints imposed by web browsers.  

The chapter on color is a valuable guide to color choice. Selection of color schemes is clearly and informatively discussed. However, like most web designers, Mr. Breaird seems unaware that a substantial portion of our population (more than 10% or males and a smaller proportion of females) is color blind to some extent. Color distinctions that are clear, harmonious and interesting to people with normal color vision are often indistinct and confusing to those with a defective color sense. Many sites that ignore this are almost illegible to the color blind. In addition, he pays no attention to the impact of color choice on ink usage when the viewer needs to print the web page. Dark backgrounds deplete the ink supply rapidly, putting the viewer to an unnecessary expense. Nevertheless, the principles described in this chapter are sound. 

If you are looking to learn HTML, Flash or any of the other languages and tools for creating web sites, this book is not for you. If you already know the rudiments, however, this excellent book will enable you to improve the appearance, professionalism and functionality of the sites you design.   

The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Breaird, ISBN: 978-0-9758419-6-9. Sitepoint Pty, Ltd. Collingwood VIC Australia. Http://

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