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Web Design in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition

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Web Design in a Nutshellmay be a few years old, but it remains a valuable resource for anyone learning about Web design. It takes novice to intermediate designers to the next level and is also useful as a desktop quick reference.

Many buy such books and end up never opening them or maybe a few times before it’s outdated. I admit I’m one of those people, but not when it comes to the Weasel (picture on the cover) book. This is the book the professor assigned for one of my first Web design classes and it is responsible for my learning tables, CSS, and knowing when to make a graphics file .gif or .jpg.

The book’s first edition is the most well worn Web design book I have in my collection and the only HTML book I ever bought. Thankfully, there is little that’s changed in the format of the book because it wasn’t broken. Niederst takes the appropriate steps to update it and expand the sections that are more relevant today.

Expect an entire orchestra of instruments relevant to Web design, along with the specific details and tricks you should know. It may seem a bit much that Niederst covers HTML, CSS, SSI, graphics, multimedia, JavaScript, DHTML, XML, XHTML, WAP, and WML. However, she appropriately magnifies essential things while the advanced or “you may want to explore” topics are touched upon to give an idea of how it works with suggestions for further reading

The book starts off by addressing the biggest challenge of designing a site that looks good in every browser and version. “Designing for a Variety of Browsers” has a two-page chart of various browsers and versions for the Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX environments, showing what each supports and doesn’t support.

The next chapter covers another source of frustration for designers, “Designing for a Variety of Displays.” If you monitor your Web visitor stats, then you’ll probably notice that no size leads the majority especially with WebTV, handheld, and cellular devices accessing the Internet. There are screen shots of browser and system measurements and tips for designing for various displays.

Chapter 26, “Flash and Shockwave” explains what it is, advantages and disadvantages, introduces you to the Flash interface, adding a Flash file to a Web page, and integrating it with other technologies. Flash is a whole different animal and the book gives you the big picture of how it fits with designing Web pages. The following chapter on SMIL covers the same basics.

Part V addresses the advanced technologies including JavaScript, DHTML, XML, XHTML, and WAP and WML. It’s useful to have these all close together at the end of the book to help you figure out which you may want to use for a Web project.

As useful as special characters can be, I never remember what to type to make the symbol appear, though I know these now. Finding the special character chart is the only complaint I had from the original edition and not even the index helped me find it, so I had to tab the page. This has now been remedied with one of the best improvements of moving the special character reference chart to the appendix for speedy access. Other appendices in the book are listings of HTML tags, attributes, deprecated tags, proprietary tags, and CSS compatibility and support.

As your design skills and knowledge grow, there is always a question that prompts you to open the book and get your answer. Highly recommended. If you need an absolute beginner’s book, start with Niederst’s Learning Web Design (this is a review of the first edition – it’s currently in its second edition).

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About Meryl K Evans

Meryl K. Evans, Content Maven, is the author of "Brilliant Outlook Pocketbook" and the co-author of "Adapting to Web Standards: CSS and Ajax for Big Sites." She has written and edited for a bunch of places online and off. A native Texan, she lives a heartbeat north of Dallas in Plano, Texas with her husband and three kiddos.