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Web Design in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition Jennifer Niederst
Published by O'Reilly & Associates
ISBN:0-596-00196-7
618 pages
£ 20.95
Published: 1st October 2001
reviewed by Daphne Tregear
   in the March 2002 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

Editon one of `Web Design in a Nutshell' came out (in 1999) just as I was getting seriously interested in web design. It's been my constant companion ever since and my copy is looking rather battered. It was (and still is) perfect for the task given on the cover. It is comprehensive, compact and yet full of helpful discourse (Ms.\@ Niederst talks so much common sense). It's very much a `dip-into-when-you-need-it' reference book. It isn't the book to teach a novice how to write HTML or JavaScript, but does have useful reference pages for these languages (and for CSS) scattered throughout. There's no sign either of the ploys of less reputable publishers who pad their texts out to brick-sized proportions with reference material to help justify their price tag. Nor is it full of references to long-dead links (another of my pet peeves on web books).

`Web Design in a Nutshell' is useful whether you are designing conservatively or designing for the latest and greatest in browsers (Netscape 6 and Internet Explorer 5.5 at the time it went to press) and wish to make use of Flash, Shockwave and dynamic HTML. I'm usually found in the conservative end of the spectrum since I am employed in a department where Sun workstations with 8-bit graphics cards predominate. It's all very well her saying `only about 5-7% of web users have 8-bit displays' but when they make up the majority of your immediate audience they have to be pleased.

The lack of pages printed in colour does make the `Designing Graphics with the Web Palette' chapter more difficult to follow than it needs to be; a few colour pictures here would aid clarity greatly. Jennifer Niederst generously makes reference to Lynda Weinman's books, but not to her very useful web site www.lynda.com which has the benefit of colour illustrations of the principles Jennifer addresses.

`Web Design in a Nutshell' is particularly strong on using tables for design which, let's face it, are still the cornerstone of the majority of pages. I also found the illustration of how differently form elements appear on the major browsers invaluable. The whole book is peppered with useful tips, although the later edition suggests more caution with nonstandard web tricks.

Edition one was written during 1998. Edition two reflects changes which have occurred in the web during the last three years. These include mentions of the capabilities of later browsers and the requirements of changing web standards. The order of some of the material has been re-jigged, some material has been expanded and new bits have been added. Are the new bits worth buying the book again if you already have edition one? There's a useful chapter on printing from the web (covering printer-friendly pages and PDFs) and others on accessibility and internationalisation (topics increasingly important in web standards). More emphasis is placed on CSS. Character entities have been moved to an appendix. Flash and Shockwave get a chapter to themselves as does SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, apparently -- hands up who's using it), XHTML (which we should all be using) and WAP and WML (oh dear...). On balance, I would say yes.

If you were only going to buy one book on web design, this would have to be it. Use it and Jakob Nielsen's thought-provoking essays on usability at www.useit.com and you can't go far wrong.

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