I’ve lauded The FWA here many times before. It is the single best repository of outstanding dynamic web design on the net, and its Site of the Day/Month/Year awards are coveted by the entire industry.
So when The FWA’s editor, Rob Ford, sent me a review copy of his first book, Guidelines for Online Success, I was obviously excited about it.
As with most books published by Taschen, this one is handsomely designed and incredibly well-crafted. At over 300 pages, the built-in bookstrap helps keep your place, while the die-cut tabs make accessing the six major content areas easy.
Those features might lead you to believe this is a reference book, but that’s not really a fitting description. It’s more like a cross between a guidebook and an exhibition catalog, the sort of thing that’s equally at home on your coffee table or propped up next to the scanner on your desktop.
The book’s subtitle is an apt overview of its contents: “The Dos and Don’ts of the Internet from the best interactive agencies in the world.” There are six major sections of the book: Interface & Design, Marketing & Communication, Technology & Programming, Technical Advice, Content/Content Management and E-Commerce. Each section opens with a short introductory essay by a different web design luminary, followed by a series of Dos and Dont’s on a range of subtopics.
For example, the first set of Dos and Dont’s in Technical Advice contains practical pointers like “Do use aliased text when publishing large amounts of text,” and “Don’t create logotypes based on aliased text.”
Several pages of screenshots from relevant sites follow each set of Dos and Dont’s. The images are large enough to make out details, and all projects include credits, software used, awards and—of course—a URL.
This structure works better for some topics than others. For more black-and-white topics it’s an appropriate, “show me, don’t tell me” approach. But for other, slippery topics, it discourages deeper discourse. For example, in Marketing & Communication, one of the Dos is simply “Be relevant and in all the right places.” There’s no discussion about what this means exactly, and the accompanying screenshots don’t really convey a sense of context.
One note: Like the sites on the The FWA, nearly all the sites featured in Guidelines for Online Success are rooted in Flash. This is not a book about standards-based XHTML/CSS web design (although the subject is touched upon briefly in the Technology & Programming section).
The book’s greatest value, perhaps, is as a client education tool. All designers must wrestle with the (often idiotic) whims of clients who get a “great idea” for their website while chatting with their wife or sitting on the crapper. For some reason, the tenets of web design elude common sense and clients frequently need to have some external source justify the seemingly outlandish proposals put forth by designers.
This book is that external source. When a client suggests adding a game of tic-tac-toe built with the company logo, turn to page 106 in the Marketing & Communication section to show him the notes on frivolous interactivity. Then show him the pretty images so he can see that simplicity can be beautiful, too.
As an annotated index to the best dynamic web design from the last few years, Guidelines for Online Success is unmatched. It essentially takes the contents of the The FWA and builds a new home for it, one that is as browsable as the online experience, but with a more metadata.
If you’re in the business of creating compelling, envelop-pushing interactive experiences, the book is easily worth its price tag. Also, if you prefer visuals to long-winded text, you’ll be happy with the book’s general approach to presenting the collective wisdom of its many authors.