BACK ISSUE #408

Design intervention
Kristen McQuillin opines one new books for cyber geeks.

"Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed"
Jakob Nielsen & Marie
Tahir

Jakob Nielsen is the acknowledged guru of website usability. With an authoritative voice, Nielsen maintains that a moderate mix of form and function makes a successful website and covers such topics as user-friendliness and clarity. Many web designers dismiss Nielsen's formula, since clients are often more impressed by flashy designs than functionality. However, this cyber master has some good points to make, which he does with graphics and accessible prose.
The first section of the book outlines the fundamentals of home page usability, from how to name your search button to using consistent spellings. Over 100 guidelines let you quickly grade your own site on its usability. Nielsen and his co-author, Marie Tahir, take a statistical look at 50 selected sites. This is the meat of the book for most designers and developers. How wide is an average page? (770 pixels) How many websites use frames? (Four percent) What's the most popular label for a company contact button? (Contact Us)
The bulk of "Homepage Usability," about 250 pages, is devoted to deconstructing 50 web sites. Each site is measured and color coded to show how much "screen real estate" is devoted to navigation, self-promotion and real content. Nielsen and Tahir pick each site apart in detail with comments coded to full-page images of the site. Overall, there are more "what-not-to-dos" than "to-dos." It's all good information, as long as you realize that there are sometimes valid reasons to ignore Nielsen's recommendations. ¥4585 on amazon.co.jp

 

"Design for Community: The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places"
Derek M. Powazek

How do you develop a rapport with a group of people you've never met in real life? Derek Powazek explores this question in his well-organized book, "Design for Community." Communities exist all over the Internet—from retail feedback forms to webcam sites to personal guest books. The best ones have good content, are easy to use and attract an interesting core of users.
Web designers and maintainers get a decent lesson delivering and managing a community environment. Since design, tools and policies set the tone for every community, Powazek explores individual tools like chat, webcams and email, as well as free, low-cost or commercial systems. Most technical warriors will find this book lacking in details, but Powazek, who founded outstanding communities at {fray}, Kvetch! and San Francisco Stories, is a good storyteller eager to share his experiences.

The strength of "Design for Community" is the interview at the end of each chapter. High-profile players like Matt Haughey from MetaFilter and Rob Malda of Slashdot share their insights on the details of creating and managing online communities. These men and women are skilled navigators of cyber space and their personal stories offer keen insight into the best and worst of their communities. While their experiences are in many ways dissimilar, they've all agreed on certain common techniques that have helped their online communities flourish.
Reading Powazek's book is no guarantee that your cyber village will be successful, and at times it lacks thorough research. However, "Design for Community" will encourage you and help you avoid some of the bigger pitfalls of developing your own community. ¥3439 on amazon.co.jp

 

"Fresh Styles for Web Designers: Eye Candy from the Underground"
Curt Cloninger

In a world of copycat websites, fresh is fleeting and only the most innovative, daring web designers manage to coin a new form. To help out mainstream designers, Curt Cloninger has identified ten edgy categories that offer new looks and ideas. Think1950s Hello Kitty, HTMinimaLism and Lo-fi Grunge.
"Fresh Styles for Web Designers" delves into the details of each with pictures, descriptions and the salient points of what makes a signature look in each category. For example, Lo-fi Grunge combines misaligned fonts, smudges that look like someone's been fingering your monitor and TV-esque scan lines to create a look that's part '60s rock poster, part Raygun.
Cloninger goes one step further than discussion. Ultimately, "Fresh Styles" is a book for working designers and those who execute designs. Each chapter includes step-by-step instructions on how to recreate the styles described. These how-tos are essential guides to making production-perfect layouts and images.

Especially valuable is the chapter-concluding wealth of resources ranging from online examples of each design to where to download Photoshop brushes to achieve the right effect.
Although "Fresh Styles" won't stay fresh for too long, it's a great resource for any designer seeking inspiration or wondering, "How do they do that?" Anyone excited about mainstream web design should skip this book or read it next year. ¥4012 on amazon.co.jp