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Top Web Books of 2010

It’s been a great year for web design books; the best we can remember for a while, in fact! Here’s an alternative review of the top four from our list:

Hardboiled Web Design

by Andy Clarke 

Andy’s ‘hardboiled’ approach to web design is both disruptive and delightful. The hardboiled premise — that we stop crippling sites to look the same in all browsers and build them to look their best in each visitor’s browser, be it modern or ancient, desktop or mobile — is a welcome remedy for weary web designers.

Hardboiled design means experimenting, having fun with, and creating unique experiences for users of modern browsers, without punishing those who can’t or won’t upgrade. Andy offers strategies to sell this style of development to clients who have grown to expect pixel perfection across all browsers, a viewpoint that flounders in light of new devices with vastly different screen sizes.

Not only is it getting harder to ensure pixel-perfection across platforms; Andy shows why it’s a bad idea to continue thinking about web design in this way, citing stifled creativity among a shortlist of compelling reasons to abandon bottom-up, ‘one design to rule them all’ thinking. The techniques he goes on to recommend (from his work and others’) are as well-explained as they are ground breaking.

And the results speak for themselves: the book's website is an understated showcase of what’s possible; try it with different browsers, different widths, and different devices to see how hardboiled design — using new techniques to enhance the presentation layer for those with modern browsers, without restricting access to important content on older or smaller devices — can enhance a website no end.

Great book. 5 stars.

HTML5 for Web Designers

by Jeremy Keith | Buy it here

I lasted 28 seconds on the HTML5 specifications page before falling into a deep slumber, dreaming I was an astronaut being chased by angry space bees, and waking to admit I still hadn’t a clue what the excitement over HTML5 was all about.

Thank heavens for HTML5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith. I get it now. HTML5 is the future, and Jeremy explains in a light-hearted way how to use HTML5 today without screwing anything up, without having to unlearn the stuff you already know, and without wishing you had a spoon the right size to fit your eye sockets.

Jeremy explains the important new elements and attributes, showing how to improve page structure, add media elements, enhance web forms, and more in a fun way that involves at least one occurrence of the phrase ‘owl stretching’ as placeholder text.

Before I read the book, I thought I had a fair handle on HTML5: once upon a website, I just swapped out <div class=”article”> with <article> tags and felt pretty smart. HTML5 for Web Designers shows that there’s more to it than that (but not by much). The book highlights subtleties within HTML5 that have taught me to respect it as a class act. (A class act! I made an HTML joke! Lucky you.)

There are times when it makes sense to use the <footer> tag for sidebar content and not HTML5′s new <aside> tag, for example, and other times when using multiple <h1> tags on a page adds to the structure and portability of your markup without ruining accessibility or SEO.

I’ll be going through our sites to recode them as an exercise. The book has made sense of HTML5 in a way that 900 pages of yawn-a-minute specifications never could. I read the whole thing through to the end in an afternoon, enjoyed it thoroughly, and didn’t encounter a single space bee. Buy it now. You might be that lucky too.

CSS3 for Web Designers

by Dan Cederholm | Buy it here

If I had to choose anyone to rescue me from a cave of poisonous frogs, Dan Cederholm would be near the top of my list. Especially if the frogs were allergic to awesome. If Dan’s book on CSS3 proves one thing, it’s that — with the right person to guide you — stuff that seems scary at first can be more fun than you ever imagined.

Dan has a wonderful way with words; here, he brings levity to a subject that can get deeply dull in the hands of the wrong author. Other authors would call a chapter on CSS3′s new transitions feature — which, among other things, lets you animate a link’s colour between two values when your mouse hovers over it — something pedestrian like, ‘CSS3′s New Transitions Feature’. But not Dan. He explains them in a chapter called ‘Hover-crafting with CSS3′. And he makes it just as light and easy as it sounds.

The book explains why those weird vendor prefixes (like -moz-border-radius) you’ve seen more of recently are a good thing and not a step backwards, how to do things with CSS that once required JavaScript or server-side hackery, and how to bring it all together in a way that doesn’t take a long hard dump on some tired old web browsers.

The web design community owes a lot to Dan Cederholm for this book and for dribbble. It’s wonderful that great web designers can share the techniques they’ve invented that bring amazing detail to their sites; even if it’s the sort of detail you only miss when you’re browsing in IE6. If you have any hopes at all of following in his footsteps and escaping the aforementioned cave of frogs, buy Dan’s book.

I take my hat off to Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, and Mandy Brown, the respective publisher, designer, and editor behind A Book Apart for their work on the two ‘for Web Designers’ books mentioned here. Together they set a new benchmark. I can’t wait to read the other titles they have planned for 2011.

Smashing CSS

by Eric Meyer | Buy it here

Whereas some unfortunate folk are incapable of passing a bakery without buying a chocolate muffin, my affliction is much worse: I’m unable to pass up a book if Eric Meyer’s name is on the cover. Only good shoes and cheap booze will part me of my money faster.

I am confident that Smashing CSS, with its hefty weight and humble cover, will become The CSS Bible for the free thinking web designer. Eric is the Godfather, the Grandaddy, and the King of CSS. His book contains recipes and solutions to head-scratch moments that designers encounter in their day-to-day work, and has already resulted in at least 14 exclamations of ‘Aha!’ from me.

Things I kind of understood before — like specificity notation, selectively overriding shorthands, and attribute selectors, are now fully understooded, and layout techniques I sort of comprehended — like adjacent clearing and em-based layout — are now fully comprehendeded.

If you’re fairly comfortable with CSS but want to learn some new tricks, find shortcuts, or simply confirm that you’re building sites the way real developers do — developers whose heart, lungs, and soul are arranged with floats and carefully considered padding — then buy Eric’s book.

What did we miss?

Web design and development is undergoing a new renaissance of sorts; it’s an exciting time, full of experimentation, learning, and brand new tags to build bad puns around. These books pave the way, but we know we missed some. Introducing HTML5 by Bruce Lawson and Remy Sharp is on our reading list too, for example, but we’ve not gotten to it yet.

If we’ve missed any others that you love, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks! (And if you’re looking for books for web design beginners, we’ll have a separate post on those at some point too.)

Posted on 09 December 2010 by Nick.



  • @digitalbdesigns
    December 9, 2010

    I would also add undercover user experience design to the list!


  • Igors Brezinskis
    December 9, 2010

    I already bought the last book CSS Eric Meyer. I also think buy HTML5 and CSS3 mentioned above.
    Good stuff.


  • Nicholas
    December 9, 2010

    I believe you missed Programming the Mobile Web, from O'Reilly


  • Nick
    December 10, 2010

    By far the best Top 4 Web Books of 2010 roundup I’ve read in the last ten minutes. Bravo :-)


  • Thaisie
    December 10, 2010

    Great Post! I've only read the HTML5 for webdesigners and must say that I like it verry much. Wil buy the other one you suggest also. Thanx.


  • Nick Cernis
    December 10, 2010

    Thanks for your recommendations, everyone. Feel free to keep them coming.


  • Accelerant
    December 10, 2010

    Great post, I've been meaning to get the new Dan Cederholm book. It's nice to see there are a couple of others I should also pick up.


  • David Sundrum
    December 10, 2010

    "Ordering Disorder – Grid Principles for Web Design' by Khoi Vinh. This is also a very good book.


  • Nick Cernis
    December 10, 2010

    As a former print designer, this really appeals to me. Thanks for the suggestion, David.

    I'm also looking forward to 'A Practical Guide to Designing Grid Systems for the Web' by Mark Boulton, due out in 2011.


  • @mayfielddigital
    December 13, 2010

    I loved "HTML5 for Web Designers", but "Introducing HTML5" should have made it in there. It's a shame you didn't have time to read it, as it's a really well put together book that answers most of the questions "HTML5 for…" leaves unanswered, but still manages to fit it in a really concise format.


  • Nick Cernis
    December 14, 2010

    Thanks, David. Sorry that I wasn't able to offer a full review of Introducing HTML5. (I've read a lot of books this year; just not that one!) I look forward to checking it out.


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