Tag Archives: designer

Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things You Need to Know About People Books

Designer book cover

Three years ago, I highly rated Susan Weinschenk‘s book Neuro Web Design, which explained how to apply psychology principles to web design and build websites that are more appealing, easier to use and more memorable. Susan has written two more books that continue to apply psychology to technology and appeal to designers and presenters. Both follow a similar format: 100 Things Every ____ Needs to Know About People, with 100 ideas grounded in psychology and applicable to designers’ and presenters’ projects.

As with Neuro Web Design, both 100 Things books are well-researched. Susan has a deep knowledge of various studies and psychological findings and explains them without being too technical. The studies are also quite interesting and revealing in themselves, and I liked reading those before anything else. The book designer also did a good job building charts when needed to illustrate psychological concepts. The rest of the books’ design is colorful, incorporates useful sidebars, and provides a “takeaways” callout at the end of each section to communicate the most essential points.

Presenter book cover

Susan also does a good job connecting psychological truisms with scenarios in the design and presentation worlds. The “completeness” ratings you see on online profiles—such as a LinkedIn or Dropbox account—plays into the fact that “people are more motivated as they get closer to a goal.” “People read in a certain direction,” so be sure to stand beside your presentation so you can be the point of entry in how attendees “read” the stage. Rule 18 in the designer’s book—”People read faster with a longer line length, but prefer a shorter line length”—even explains the differences between text on a webpage and text in print, and it’s all based on recent research. These books are based on evidence and tied directly to our industries.

However, Susan doesn’t always do a good job connecting the rules specifically to the designer’s or presenter’s world and some don’t apply to our work as well as others. “People can be in a flow state” and work with focused attention, but this applies to any work—not just designers’ work. Same thing with “people can’t multitask.” I think the book for presenters is more focused on aspects of presentation than the designers’ book is focused on design. Ultimately, I think every point Susan makes is useful but some are more useful than others.

Still, both books are great material and a good value. Designers and presenters sometimes build their products by the book and don’t always think about why some approaches might work better than others. Susan’s books help you understand the “why.”

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People
100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
Published by New Riders
US $34.99 for Presenters, US $29.99 for Designers
Rating: 9/10
Buy Designer and Presenter from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers

Abduzeedo Guide cover

The Internet is an amazing thing—there’s so much inspiration out there now for designers to reflect upon. Designers and illustrators from across the world can show their work to each other. And since it’s easy for anyone to write and publish online, there are many tutorials and articles out there from the best in the field. I’m sure many old-school designers who made their careers without the Internet wonder how much easier it would have been if they had had it.

The Internet is a significant factor in the success—and failure—of the Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers. The book was written by Fábio Sasso, founder of the design blog Abduzeedo.com, and several other illustrators. All of these artists have their own blogs and websites, full of illustrations and articles, and they are prolific online publishers. The book design is very nice—clean, colorful and easy to read. I enjoyed reading it very much.

However, the Inspiration Guide might be the first book I’ve read where some of the content was already familiar to me—because I had seen it on the Internet. In particular, Alex Varanese’s “Alt 1977″ series of illustrations was popular on Twitter and blogs not too long ago. I enjoyed seeing his work then and I still do, but it wasn’t new anymore. The Internet makes it so easy to find content that a book based on online content is at a disadvantage.

The Inspiration Guide is more than just images though, which is its redeeming grace. Many illustrators are interviewed in the Guide, and they are good reading for artists who are early in their careers. (I think they are good for experienced artists too, but they tend to focus on young careers because the artists are relatively young.) There are several tutorials available as well that combine Photoshop and digital tools with real artistry, which I really like. They were fun to do, not too hard or easy, and the results were excellent.

At $40, the Inspiration Guide might be a hard sell for illustrators. (NOTE: Amazon has it listed for $26.) After all, why buy the book when you can see the work online? But I think it’s a good book and it does have some fresh content that Abduzeedo regulars might not know already.

Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers
Fábio Sasso and others
Published by New Riders
US $39.99
Rating: 8/10

Cederholm’s “Handcrafted CSS” Is An Enjoyable Read

handcraftedcss

I never did get a chance to review Dan Cederholm‘s Bulletproof Web Design, but I know the reputation it has in the web design community. That’s why I was excited to grab a copy of his newest book, Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design. Handcrafted CSS is a very good book: well-designed, full of both hands-on projects and commentary, and also well-written.

New techniques require new books

Handcrafted CSS is really a book about a handful of new CSS techniques that weren’t feasible when Bulletproof Web Design was written. A new batch of modern browsers and some designer ingenuity have given Dan new cutting-edge techniques to write about, including new methods for creating rounded corners, parallax scrolling, improved floats and more. Ethan Marcotte also writes a chapter on his own contribution, a fluid grid-based layout.

Some of these techniques are browser-specific: modern browsers like Firefox and Safari make several of Dan’s techniques possible, but old version of Internet Explorer ignore the code because the browser is just plain lousy. Dan advocates progressive enhancement, adding the improvements for those who can enjoy them and allowing the site to degrade—but still work—for everyone else. Handcrafted CSS even has a chapter on this topic (“Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the Same in Every Browser?”). A few years ago, most of my clients would have answered “yes” to this question; today, my clients seem to understand that Internet Explorer doesn’t allow them the web’s full potential.

Leaves you wanting more

Handcrafted CSS lacks a larger perspective that I hoped would be included. For example, in Chapter 2 Dan explores two vendor-specific extensions: -webkit-border-radius and -moz-border-radius. These extensions allow CSS to apply and control rounded corners in Mozilla and Safari browsers. Chapter 2 is a wonderful read and makes the popular “rounded corner” design easy to execute, but it left me wanting to read more about vendor-specific extensions. Handcrafted CSS is focused on specific projects and techniques to the detriment of the broader theory and techniques, and I think some of “the big picture” could have been included without making the book much larger or expensive. It would have also made the book more accessible to beginners, though a book on advanced CSS techniques is not a bad thing for advanced users. This all is a minor complaint though, because the material is so good.

The cutting edge

I would recommend Handcrafted CSS for any experienced web designer working with CSS today. Like Dan says in the book, the cutting edge continues to move forward and new techniques must be learned to stay current and maintain true craftsmanship. I really like the “craftsmanship” angle that Dan sticks to throughout the book, and the DVD (available separately or together) and companion website (used in all chapters and exercises) make this a very hands-on book as well as a good read without them.

I also think that beginner and intermediate designers will benefit from Handcrafted CSS, though this is not a book from which to learn CSS. It’s written to expand your knowledge of the cutting edge and employ new CSS techniques that weren’t practical just a few years ago. I’m already looking forward to Dan’s next book, which will surely be needed just a few years from now.

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design
Dan Cederholm with Ethan Marcotte
Published by New Riders
US$39.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: “Do Good Design” Not A Typical Design Book

dogooddesign

At a publishing company I used to work for, I was asked to produce an invitation for an award ceremony honoring community activists. I’ve always been bothered to the point of activism by the sheer volume of waste paper and media our society produces daily, so I had the idea to design an invitation that was stamped upon waste cardboard rather than printed on pristine paper. Unfortunately, someone at the company didn’t like that idea and the project was given to another, less maverick designer.

Maybe I was onto something after all.

Do Good Design: How Designers Can Change The World is a unique book. It’s the only graphic design book I can think of that considers the ethical ramifications of design and treats it as a tool for good or evil—and argues that our world is suffering from serious maladies brought about by the subversion of design for evil purposes. Almost no designers think about such things—they’re too busy learning the new features of Photoshop CS4 or updating their LinkedIn profiles to get more clients and more money. Perhaps that’s why I think this book is an essential read for everyone in the industry.

The big problems: overconsumption and the end of the world

Author David B. Berman, who has become known as an advocate of “good design” in his native Ontario, believes graphic design does far more than anyone realizes to shape our perceptions of the world and control our behaviors, and in the past century designers have unwittingly contributed to a world of overconsumption and environmental destruction that will eventually lead to an unsustainable way of life. Exhibit Number One in Berman’s argument of the power of design is the Palm Beach County ballot used in the 2000 U.S. election: this ballot was so poorly designed that many people mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore—swinging that county’s vote to George W. Bush and setting the United States up for eight years of war, death and outrage.

Buy the book if only for the international perspective

Berman traveled to a wide variety of countries around the world while writing Do Good Design, and I encourage American designers to buy this book if only to learn more about what American graphic design, branding and lifestyle are doing to the world. Did you know…?:

  • Thousands of Third World schools, orphanages and public signage sport the Coca-Cola logo. It costs Coca-Cola only $200 to brand an entire village.
  • Americans know Hugo Boss as the high-end clothing company. Most Americans don’t know that Hugo Boss himself designed the Nazi SS and Hitler Youth uniforms during World War II.
  • Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, is so large and heavy—700,000 tons—that it’s believed to have increased the instance of earthquakes across Taipei.

Berman’s thesis is that the drive for overbranding and overconsumption is due to graphic design, in particular American design and product development. Do Good Design looks at the thesis in a fascinating way, with around-the-globe observations and plenty of preaching. If you want to remain in your bubble of preconceptions about design and the world, don’t read this book.

A call for activism

For Berman, it’s not enough for readers to simply read Do Good Design and go back to the usual work for the usual clients. The last section of the book is a toolkit of sustainable design practices, manifestos from various organizations and a general push to become a “good design” activist. This is going to make some readers uncomfortable, but that’s what makes this book unique. There are a variety of small actions mentioned that will move things in the right direction. Others actions—such as pressing for sustainable design in the workplace—are more complicated. Berman thinks bosses and company owners will work with designers, but I think they’re just as likely to fire you if you start advocating changes they don’t want.

Do Good Design is a hard book to rate because it’s not necessarily perfect: it can be preachy and readers who don’t like being pressed to change may not like the last 30 pages. However, Berman’s message is too important to ignore and I encourage every designer to read this book and maybe change the world. My rating reflects the importance of Berman’s message.

Do Good Design: How Designers Can Change The World
David B. Berman
Published by New Riders and AIGA
Rating: 10/10
US$24.99