The three-disk “For A Beautiful Web” DVD series is a very nice resource for web designers, with roughly two hours per disk on three important topics: CSS, microformats and web accessibility. Presenter Andy Clarke, a web designer based in the UK, knows his stuff and presents things clearly and also with a bit of his own opinion on how CSS and other design elements can improve one’s workflow, which for me was a welcome addition to what could otherwise have been a merely informational resource.
My favorite disk was Designing with CSS: I know CSS pretty well but Andy suggested a different approach to conceptual design and advocated building mock-ups with CSS-based layouts instead of the usual graphical design that others (including myself) produce in Photoshop or something similar. This was a new idea to me and one that I want to implement this year for my web design business. The DVD was not just monologue on workflow but also a survey of basic and advanced CSS techniques and applications. The working webpage he used to illustrate his points was well-designed, well-executed and illustrative.
Designing Web Accessibility was also very useful. Designing with Microformats was interesting but I got the impression that microformats are not yet widely used. This was the disk I was most interested in since I had heard very little about microformats previously, but after viewing the disk I’m not sure if I have a very good reason to look into microformats further.
I should also note Andy Clarke’s presentation. He is definitely a very skilled web designer with strong CSS chops, and his presentation skills are good—I was able to follow the DVDs easily. But I thought Andy was too methodical, slow and a little monotonous in his delivery. Sometimes there were long pauses in the monologue that broke up the flow. I think if Andy could bump up his energy level and fluidity of his speaking it would help make the series more engaging and fun to learn with.
“For A Beautiful Web” DVD Series:
Designing Web Accessibility
Designing with CSS
Designing with Microformats
Presented by Andy Clarke
Published by New Riders
US$39.99 (Designing with CSS US$34.99)
Wendy Chisholm is co-editor of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0; Matt May is an accessibility engineer at Adobe and leader of the Web Standards Project Accessibility Task Force. With credentials like theirs, their book Universal Design for Web Applications has all the makings of an essential resource for web designers and developers who need their web applications to be accessible for everyone—and who doesn’t need their web applications to be accessible?
Lean but worth reading
This book is published by O’Reilly, and it seems to me that O’Reilly puts out books that are either (1) small and compact or (2) large and dense. Universal Design is one of the former, at less than 200 small pages. I actually prefer these to the larger tomes, and in this case it works great because the book is full of useful knowledge. The book’s title suggests it’s about web application design but most of it pertains to HTML/XHTML structure, forms and tables, scripts and some Ajax—all of which are just as pertinent for web designers if not more so. If you build websites for a living—but not necessarily web applications—then Universal Design is just as valuable a book for your bookshelf.
The information in this book is fairly comprehensive but not complete—the sections on structure and accessible code are fairly thorough but I wish there was more written about the process of creating such code, which is in the final chapter and only takes up a small portion of the book. It’s pretty good but experienced web designers who know next to nothing about universal design may need a little more help getting in the habit of building accessible web applications. But with the first couple chapters, which introduce and promote the concept of universal design, those in the field will have a pretty good idea of why it’s important and how to approach it on a basic level.
It’s ironic to me that web designers and developers are often manic about validation—they’ll proudly show their sites are XHTML-compliant and pooh-pooh those that aren’t—but sometimes don’t know much about all the factors involved in universal design, which is probably more important to their clientele. I would recommend any web designer or developer to pick up Universal Design for Web Applications, supplement it with online material from W3C and other accessibility resources, and change the way they construct their web products.
Universal Design for Web Applications
Wendy Chisholm and Matt May
Published by O’Reilly