Can the principles of design simply be taught? Surely the skills and ‘talent’ for design is something that one is born with, and is gained through a lifetime of experience?
Well that’s what I thought. Until BOOM! I came across this book which claimed that it could teach me – a logical, right-brained, rigid Physics student – the principles that are used behind good design.
You can imagine my intrigue. You can also imagine my eyes flew out of my head faster than a speeding bullet, and I hammered my mouse on the buy button when it described it would teach design in the context of web-design and also App design.
Well 6 weeks later, after a bunch of Physics exams (I am still a student after all), some video-games, many nights of drinking, and also reading this book, I can safely say that I have finished Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird
Here are some thoughts on it:
Who is it for?
Anything of true value that is produced in this world isn’t made for everyone. Firstly this book would be of benefit for people who are interested in web design. However it won’t help all web designers. If you are already a complete guru zen master in Web-Design, and make websites which could make Arnold Schwarzenegger weep at its sheer beauty… then it isn’t for you. BUT if you’re a level 0 aspiring web-designer, then this book will be TREMENDOUSLY HELPFUL. If you’re at an intermediate level, having already designed a few websites then you may also find it helpful.
But if you don’t even have a passing interest in web design, app design, UX design, UI design, Information Architecture, and whatever the heck the term for digital design is these days…. then please do not buy this book. It would be like feeding a Lion a vegan diet.
What does it deliver?
Principles of beautiful web design starts from a basic level. It talks about the layouts that work, usually based on the rule of thirds. It discusses the different colour combinations, and the emotional responses they can create. There’s a massive deconstruction on what fonts are, and the different types of fonts, all under the umbrella term of Typography. Finally it talks about texture and imagery.
All throughout the book, the author is not just discussing what these different principles are, but relates them to good web design. There is a case study throughout the book which applies all these principles, and the book is littered with different examples of awesome websites. It also whenever possible introduces web tools which would aid the aspiring designer. Everything is also discussed at the level of a beginner. No unnecessary jargon is used, and there is no presumption of foreknowledge (except in CSS, but even this is unnecessary in my opinion).
What it doesn’t deliver
This wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t draw some attention to its weaknesses. This book promises to teach you the principles of beautiful and awesome web design, which it does. However it doesn’t teach you how to bring about these effects. There is very little technical how-to. If you’re looking for a book which would also teach you how to bring about these effects on a website using CSS, then this is the wrong book.
But that information can be easily found in other resources, and after all that isn’t what Jason Beaird said he was going to do in the book.
Did it work?
I guess this is the most important question. It’s all well and good me talking about what it does and doesn’t do, but the absolute fundamental issue at hand here is: Does it do what it says on the cover?
I can absolutely hand on heart, cross my hands, swear till I die that it does. I am no Da-Vinci or Walt Disney. But I have gone from an absolute data driven rational monster to analysing design in the everyday world. I find myself looking at the centremost object in an advert or logo, asking questions to myself. Why did the designer put that there? What is he trying to convey? What do I “feel” when I look at the image? What would I do differently?
I have no hard evidence of my design skills, as I’m still teaching myself the technical know-how. But when I finally achieve the title of “Design Apprentice” I know I’ll feel more confident in coming up with a design solution.
Even if I don’t get that far, at the very least I can now probably hold a 30 minute conversation with a designer.
So do you want to know more about design? What makes good design good, and bad design bad?
If not, well… thanks for reading this far I guess.
If yes, then you can buy this book. If you don’t buy it, borrow it from someone who knows someone who has it (it’s also in pdf format…. in fact more than likely most people who own it own the pdf version).
(By the way that isn’t an affiliate link. I want you to know this is an honest review with no economic incentive. So wotcha waiting for? BUY IT ALREADY!!!)
You can also get a free version if you subscribe to .net magazine in the UK.
Of course this will only be of interest if you want to learn design.