What Do You Do All Day? (or "Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again")
Monday, January 27, 2003
What I Finished Reading Recently:
Web Sites That Work by Roger Black (with Sean Elder)
I often pick up interesting Web design books, no matter how old they are, because the best of them, no matter how out of touch with current trends (and sometimes specifically because they have nothing to do with things that are merely trendy), can have some truly great advice about how to create logical, usable sites, which trancends any and all discussions of current web design bells and whistles.
So when I saw this book by noted magazine designer Roger Black, I had high hopes, despite its rather ancient (in Web years) copyright date of 1997. But unlike some other great books of that era (notably Lynch & Horton's Web Style Guide, Jeffrey Veen's Hotwired Style, Jared Spool's Web Site Usability: A Designer's Guide, Jakob Nielsen's Designing Web Usability and even Vincent Flanders' Web Pages That Suck), this one had nothing new to offer and even proved to be one of the strangest and most useless books on the subject I've ever read.
My first clue that this was going to be an odd duck was the way that, even though Roger Black's name is listed large over the title (presumably as the chief author), the text keep tossing out phrases like "Black says," and "Black recommends." It was then that I looked again and saw the much smaller "with Sean Elder" under the book's title and Black's name on the cover, and realized it was going to be more Elder writing about what magazine-desinger-turned-Web-consultant Black recommends, than Black writing about it himself.
But once I'd managed that shift in thinking, things didn't get any better. Aside from very standard advice like not making image files too large for easy loading, and not cluttering things up with too many different type faces, one of Black's big admonitions is "bigger is better." And we're shown a bunch of very rudimentary-looking web pages that went through a number of not-so-great iterations before undergoing Black's transformation and ending up with REALLY BIG LETTERS in the middle of the screen. Didn't really look any better to me. (And more current design trends are with me on this -- website type has typically gotten smaller in recent years, and large type, even in headlines and logos, is decidedly out of favor these days.)
Elder also treats us to a lot of Black's prognostications about the future of the Web...about half of which are fairly solid (he predicts that broadband connections and personalization, a la Amazon.com, will be big), but at least as many of which are way off the mark (he hypes Your Personal Net (YPN) and PointCast, which are deader than doornails now). And finally, Elder makes nearly endless references to Black's pioneering work in print magazine design and re-design. But while much of that work is indeed revolutionary (he created Rolling Stone's indelible look, for example), the lengthy references to it only reinforce the point that Black's ideas go over a lot better in print than they do on the Web, and that's really where his strength lies.
So even if you see this book in a bargain bin, at a deep discount, don't waste your money. There are much better books on Web design out there...and there were even in 1997.