I need a book on web design aesthetics not programming.
March 4, 2011 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I need a book on web design. Or maybe just design. I can program just fine, what I'm looking for is aesthetics. Why some things work and why others don't. Color choices, proper spacing etc.

I've been programming websites for years. I have no problem with HTML/CSS/PHP/MySQL/jQuery/JAVA blah blah. I don't need a programming book.

My problem is that I design and code things and show them to someone else and they just kind of look at me like I'm nuts. My spacing is off, the text looks weird, the colors don't match. In other words, my aesthetics are way off.

I need a book on design, how to pair things better and why some things work. I need to train my eye, I guess. I'm interested in any useful text, but especially in regards to web design- things like column widths, proper spacing, color choice etc.

posted by GilloD to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
http://webtypography.net is incredibly useful.

Presumably, you already read A List Apart. They have some nice articles on the finer points.
posted by yaymukund at 7:12 PM on March 4, 2011

I like the Robin Williams books ("Non-Designer's Design Book", etc.). Short, clean, straightforward.
posted by trinity8-director at 7:13 PM on March 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

"Lynda Weinman is the best-known and respected teacher of web design. She wrote the first book on the subject, designing web graphics, published by New Riders in 1995, defining the subject area. Prior to the days of the web, Lynda worked as a designer and effects specialist in the film industry. She has written or co-authored several other well-known titles such as Deconstructing Web Graphics, Coloring Web Graphics, Click Here, and Creative HTML Design. She has formed her own highly successful company, Lynda.com, focusing on training seminars, design-related trade shows, and multimedia publishing." (Amazon list of her titles)
posted by netbros at 7:35 PM on March 4, 2011

Fastest way is going to be finding somebody with a complementary skill set who wants to learn from you, and making time to sit together and show each other stuff. And it won't be fast. You'll be exchanging design skills with somebody who has spent about as much time learning how to make things look good as you've spent on learning how to make them work well.

Clean aesthetic design is at least as deep a skill as clean programming. Attempting to reduce it to a set of what-works-with-what-else recipes is going to be about as productive as trying to learn programming the same way.

If you find somebody you work well with, then you can offer your services as a team and get paid for the time you spend teaching each other stuff.
posted by flabdablet at 8:09 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Check out "Design basic index" by Jim Krause.
posted by jade east at 8:23 PM on March 4, 2011

The Principals of Beautiful Web Design and Sexy Web Design, published Sitepoint may be right up your alley.

The links are to the publisher's site, but you can get them much cheaper at Amazon.
posted by punkrockrat at 8:46 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Robin William's book is a general design book aimed at non-designers but it isn't particularly focused on web design. But even if it was, it wouldn't matter. Books will not help you. You've identified the problem but not the solution.

The people who are looking at you like you're nuts can see things that you can't see and that agnosia means that you can't teach yourself. If you could you wouldn't need to ask. You don't pick a certain color because a book tells you to; you pick it because you feel that it's the right choice in your particular context. There's never any one answer, no algorithm that you can rely on. If you're wondering how to reverse an array in PHP you can look up the procedure. But design doesn't work that way. It always depends.

I've taught design and there are principles, to be sure, but they're useless without natural inclination, practice and mentorship. I would not believe the books that are promising otherwise. And principles aren't even the most important thing you're missing. Calculate how long it's taken you to learn HTML/CSS/PHP/MySQL/jQuery/JAVA at your present level and then ask yourself whether you're willing to devote a comparable amount of time to learn how to answer the design questions you're posing. If the answer is yes then you have to be absolutely unreasonable in your zeal to experiment with type and color and alignment. You need to care about these things because you can't not care about them. Intrinsically. Not just because your friends look at you like you're nuts.

Aesthetics are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to web design. More important is overall structure and flow through the site and the page. These things can be designed in the same way that individual elements can be designed. It doesn't matter what typeface you select if your information is poorly organized to being with. Books can be slightly more helpful in this regard because this tends to be more of an analytic exercise.

Having said that, when it comes to aesthetics (to technically answer your question) I came across a book recently by Patrick McNeil called The Web Designer's Idea Book that includes relevant examples of contemporary web design. You can extract patterns by comparing your work.

But I'd suggest taking flabdablet's advice and partnering with someone who can help you find your way.
posted by Jeff Howard at 9:11 PM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd shy away from focusing entirely on making things pretty--one alternative focus is to think about what makes something usable. That's where something like the classic Don't Make Me Think could come in very handy. If the elements you present on the page don't go together, people are going spend more calories trying to figure out what's supposed to be going on and then they start thinking--which is where they usually get into trouble.

Other recommendations: Designing the Obvious and The Elements of User Experience.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:18 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I come from a back-end web application space myself, and Head First Web Design by Ethan Watrall and Jeff Siarto has been very helpful. They cover the visual and design side, navigation, and even accessibility issues very well. It has really helped me up my game as a developer.

If you aren't familiar with the Head First series, check it out. It is a very interactive and hands on approach to learning a topic. Their books not only help you cover the topic, but make it fun at the same time. We've been working through Head First Design Patterns with our development team and it has been a great experience. Highly recommended.
posted by boba at 2:16 AM on March 5, 2011

Learn typography, by reading The Elements of Typographic Style. Start with The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web, which has the starter content but is incomplete.

Typography in many ways is math. There are pretty rigid principles about alignment and whitespace and those principles will bleed into the way you do other things.

Then learn about grid-based design. There's a bunch of articles about this, such as a classic at Smashing Magazine and lots of systems like 960 Grid System.

This kind of information is to design as for example something like learning smarty templates is to computer science. It will not make you a designer (note the complete lack of colour theory) but they will dramatically improve your first pass and introduce you to terms, principles and theories that you can then dig into more.
posted by cCranium at 9:05 AM on March 5, 2011

Partial answer. Since my ability to choose harmonious colors was also not entirely reliable, I have learned to study paintings of impressionistic masters, western or modern artists when I choose wool for my knitting or weaving projects. The artists have already done a superb job of harmonizing the whole, and I keep the overall look in mind, especially in regard to the proportions of accent colors. Take for example Albers' Fall Finale: four gorgeous yellow brown tones. Marc Chagall 's Nocturnal Carnival: lots of blues with the smallest amount of green, red, yellow and purple for pop. I wove a pillow out of the first, and knitted a sweater out of the second.

You can learn, but it takes a lot of study of artists to develop a good sense for colors.
posted by francesca too at 10:45 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat, and found this book to be really helpful (despite the goofy title).
Before and After: How to Design Cool Stuff

They take a boring or bad design and then apply simple principles to turn it into a good design. I found it more helpful than other books since it actually helped train you to identify the good and bad elements of any design.

See also Before and After magazine website for a taste of pretty much what you find in the book.
posted by roaring beast at 6:57 PM on March 5, 2011

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