What web books do you recommend?
June 25, 2007 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Wanted: 'WAI for dummkopfs'. Please recommend your favourite dead tree books on web design, usability, accessibility - or anything you wish the average corporate webmaster knew.

I've been asked by a friend who is web-master at a small(ish) .govt Ministry to recommend books for the web-team's reference shelf.

This is a sudden and magical "end-of-financial-term-fairy" opportunity to grab some really useful resources.

Areas of interest include web accessibility (currently trying to teach others in the organisation WHY this is important), CSS and content management.

But any recommendations for truly sterling books on web-related topics will be welcome - I'll make him bookmark this thread for future reference.

So: books that you've read and referred to so often that they are dog-eared, books that made a lightbulb go off in your head, books that gave you great lines to fling into arguments. Please.
posted by Catch to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't make me think. I have this book and I recommend it highly.
posted by b33j at 10:12 PM on June 25, 2007

I was going to recommend Don't Make Me Think, too.
posted by Many bubbles at 12:10 AM on June 26, 2007

Prioritizing web usability is good if you want the hard numbers on how people use the web. Like how likely a user is to scroll down the window, how many seconds are spent on average per page, how much your revenue will go up if you move your shopping cart button from the left to the right, etc. Surprising and interesting stuff.
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral at 7:40 AM on June 26, 2007

Best answer: Is accessibility mandated by law where you are or in any country where you do business or plan to do business? That's one, compelling reason why it's important.

3rding Don't Make Me Think. I've read it over and over and over again.

Try also:
The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett (great, great overview of the different elements and how it all fits together -- a framework for thinking about user experience)
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Louis Rosenfeld (for more information architecture type material, especially important if you need to organize large amounts of content)
Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research by Mike Kuniavsky (great if you want to go beyond what is covered in Don't Make Me Think and do more intensive research into the needs of your users (and more than just usability -- a very handy reference when someone suddenly decides "we need research! we need research!")
The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies, and Emerging Applications (a vast, comprehensive reference book of many many things, it's academic, but almost like an encyclopedia of HCI)
posted by kathryn at 8:08 AM on June 26, 2007

Not web-specific, but Edward Tufte's books were very influential to me (and many early web developers) in understanding how all that data you suddenly had access to should actually be displayed. Seeing Tufte on someone's bookshelf is, to me, a sign that they take their work seriously.
posted by mkultra at 8:25 AM on June 26, 2007

Oh, and anything by Don Norman, who puts "usability" in a much larger context.
posted by mkultra at 8:29 AM on June 26, 2007

If the company is paying for these books, don't buy the Tufte books just yet. See if they'll pay for you to attend one of his lectures -- you get the books included in the lecture price.
posted by kathryn at 8:41 AM on June 26, 2007

Best answer: I don't see anything wrong with the recommendations so far; all great books. But they aren't necessarily relevant to the stated areas of interest.

On accessibility, if they can get hold of Joe Clark's book Building Accessible Websites, that's a key source. The entire book is online, though, so if you can't find it, not the worst thing. The book Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance suffers from having too many authors, and the first section in particular is dull dull dull, but once you get past the philosophy lesson and into the practicalities in part 2, the book is very good. There isn't a lot else out there about accessibility.

If they understand the rudiments of CSS and are looking to make the jump to Jedi masters, Andy Budd's CSS Mastery is the book to get. It's my primary reference when I'm working on something and need to know. Andy's writing is remarkably clear; I even understood IE's hasLayout after reading his book, a notoriously difficult concept to grok. Another UK-based Andy, Andy Clarke, has a remarkable screed available, Transcending CSS. It's one of the first books that gives a glimpse of where CSS is heading. Third CSS book is The Zen of CSS Design by Dave Shea and Molly Holzschlag (Molly also played a substantial role in Andy Clarke's book). It's not so much a how-to as a what-can, based on Dave's remarkable CSS Zen Garden site, a real showcase for the versatility of CSS for designers.

If they're interested in AJAX but haven't got programmer-level Javascript chops, Jeremy Keith's book DOM Scripting is a great introduction to Javascript programming for designers. It's a little weak on practicalities like pointing out what doesn't work in IE. His followup, Bulletproof Ajax, is short and strong, and isn't so smitten with Ajax that it insists that it's best for everything. It's the only Ajax book I've read that makes the point that there are times, lots of times, when Ajax isn't the right approach. It's the only Ajax book that I know of that mentions accessibility, which is an unsolved problem at this point. I also found Foundations of Ajax a strong entry in the Ajax book sweepstakes. It's a bit more programmer-oriented than Jeremy's books, but unlike some other books I've read, it doesn't start with 250 pages of philosophy before getting to the practical stuff, and it does a great job of explaining how to work around certain browser quirks.
posted by geneablogy at 2:54 PM on June 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks Everyone!
Kathryn, accessibility is mandatory here, (NZ). It's forcing change, but I have a misty-eyed vision of making converts and whipping up some enthusiasm for it amongst public servants .... (picture me at my desk wiping away a single tear)

I'm going to mark a couple of best answers but I really appreciate everyone's help.

Don't Make Me Think was one of the few decent books we had already.

Books recommended here on the order form so far:
Prioritizing Web Usability
The Zen of CSS Design
CSS Mastery
The Elements of User Experience
Observing the User Experience
Building Accessible Websites

Now I'm going to have to find a way to pinch them, or extend my contract here until I've had a good read.
posted by Catch at 4:38 PM on June 26, 2007


Not dead-tree, but Pilgrim’s Dive Into Accessibility is excellent for beginners, and quite readable. (You could print it.)

The Nielsen books are overrated.

“Good” computer books are really hard to find. I read a lot of them and I’m very often disappointed.
posted by joeclark at 1:21 PM on June 27, 2007

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