Smashing Book 3

As an occasional writer for Smashing Magazine — that’s a disclaimer (and an honour!) — I’ve had the pleasure of reading the latest publication, Smashing Book #3 - Redesign The Web.

Here’s my honest opinion on why this book is worth buying:

On Business

Book #3 opens with wise words from Paul Boag on the reality of web design as a business. Designing websites is not just about expressing one’s inner artist in Photoshop. Things like research, testing, and clients exist and the theme of this chapter, a complete website redesign, is not always the sensible option (for either business). Paul informs us on how to keep project scope in check, design at a sensible level, and mobile strategy realistically planned.

While much is written on web design these days it tends to be ideals and personal opinion, rarely is business ever mentioned. Paul speaks from years of experience and is the sort of guy worth removing your iPod headphones to listen to. And going from my own experience with many practitioners and the latest trendy, ‘new iPad’ web strategies; a much needed voice.

The following articles get more technical and cover a wide range of subjects so there’s something for you no matter your level of expertise. Obviously the of-the-moment themes make an appearance regularly, but if you’re tired of hearing about ‘responsive design’ and ‘mobile-first’ — fear not! This book is a refreshing look beyond the much talked about methodologies and is very much grounded in logical, practical ideas. It’s rock solid this is the Web type stuff. If you live and breath web design & development like I do there is nothing revolutionary in these pages — an unfair expectation — but you’ll be happy with the book’s advanced nature nonetheless.

On Practice

I particularly enjoyed Marc Edwards chapter, “Designing for the Future, Using Photoshop”. He introduces the never more relevant issues of screen size, pixel density, colour, and scale with superb thoroughness. A pleasing change from the recent outburst in overblown and blinkered ‘is your website Retina-ready?’ articles. Marc continues with many great examples of non-destructive Photoshop techniques. I would say the main sentiment to take from this chapter is that Photoshop is still as useful as it ever was. We don’t have to abruptly drop it and ‘design in the browser’, or any nonsense like that (in my humble opinion). You can probably guess what my two pet hates are at the moment!

Rounding up an excellent read, Andy Clarke writes on the difficulties of tackling a responsive, modern web design with traditional ideas while offering new techniques that, amongst other things, separates aesthetic design from layout. Something that in inherently non-design on a responsive canvas. He describes modern web design as less about full-screen comps and more about components, moods, atmosphere, and general aesthetic style (I’ve introduced Style Guides to my design & build practice this year). Rather than talking about design decisions like ‘navigation on the left’ we should focus on hierarchical rules and related strategies, like content, to pull design together; layout starts to form itself.

Importantly Andy notes, “Responsive Web design asks more questions than it offers answers.” To that I add, never dimiss a technique until you know what problems it solves and what else must accompany it. Responsive design offers us a way forward on the many-device Web, but it requires a big change in thinking and practice to work.

I won’t spoil any more for you!

This book is worth buying and reading for yourself. It really covers many aspects of modern website production in eleven in-depth chapters. There will likely be a few you don’t care for — we all have our own tastes — but I’d be surprised if any genuinely leave you disappointed given the chance. I was quite prepared to write something less positive, the first Smashing Book didn’t excite me, but this one very much did.

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