5 must-read books for web designers and developers
There are a lot of great online resources for web designers and developers; such as YouTube channels, which offer advice, opinion and inspiration to designers. However, there is still a lot to be said for books.
Some of the design industry’s greatest minds have put their thoughts into eBooks. But, why should we still take seriously this most archaic of media?
Well, canny experts in their field are typically not going to give away their best ideas and insights for free, but many of them are happy to tell all for the relatively low price of a book.
So, here is our choice of five must-read books for web designers and developers, written by some of the industry’s pioneers and greatest thinkers:
1: Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited (2013) by Steve Krug
Originally published in 2000, then updated in 2013, this is the book that web designers will tell you all web designers must read. Best-selling author and web designer, Jeffrey Zeldman, says "Anyone who designs, codes, writes, owns, or directs websites should read and memorise this book".
With a positive and supportive tone, Krug isn’t wagging his finger and reeling off a list of ‘you must not’ commandments, but is rather explaining why usability needn’t be the enemy of design. After all, a website is a tool that needs to be usable by untrained customers, so effective design has to be usable design.
2: HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites (2011) by Jon Duckett
This beginners’ guide for developers is described as “a book about code that doesn't read like a 1980s VCR manual”. Well, that’s refreshing. The book makes learning the essentials and basics of website design clear and easy to follow. The book is written in a breezy style that instils confidence, and it is profusely illustrated, to ensure it is easy to follow for all kinds of learners.
Some books can intimidate the reader and lose them early on, by assuming a level of prior-learning that you don’t necessarily have; this book is more forgiving and strives to keep designers interested and motivated.
3: Thinking With Type (2004) by Ellen Lupton
First published in 2004, then updated in 2010, Lupton says, in her introduction, that this book is not thinking about type but, rather, thinking with type. “Typography is a tool for doing things with: shaping content, giving language a physical body, enabling the social flow of messages”.
The book is bursting with examples of type, which Lupton annotates and explains in a warm, witty and down-to-earth style. She explains the history, the psychology and the practical application of every aspect of type. Needless to add, the book is beautifully designed.
Lupton has supported the book with her own website, which mirrors the structure of the book in having three sections on Letter, Text and Grid, plus a bonus section.
4: Responsive Web Design (2017) by Ethan Marcotte
Ethan Marcotte was an early advocate of the notion of Responsive Design, he even popularised the phrase in this article. He followed that up with his book, now in its second, updated edition, which promotes the benefits of thinking beyond the laptop and future-proofing your design skills by making them more adaptable.
As he said in that initial article, “We’re designing for mice and keyboards, for T9 keypads, for handheld game controllers, for touch interfaces. In short, we’re faced with a greater number of devices, input modes, and browsers than ever before.” The challenge, of course, is to make the experience of using a website equally satisfying and instinctive on all those platforms.
He covers both the principles of design and the CSS nuts-and-bolts, including examples of code, for ingredients like fluid grids and flexible images, that lead to a website that gives great UX no matter what platform or device a user is employing.
5: Design is a Job (2012) & Ruined by Design (2019) by Mike Monteiro
Many design books are full of creative inspiration or technical specs to keep creative people’s mental engines turning over. ‘Design is a Job’ is not. Written by the acerbic designer and influencer, Mike Monteiro - who is the CEO of San Francisco design agency Mule Design - it concerns itself with all the other stuff that clutters up the lives of designers. It’s about dealing with clients, knowing how to sell your work and understanding contracts.
Monteiro’s mission in this book is to help designers get to grips with the part of their job that really matters - getting paid. Often, this is the stuff you learn through mistakes. Well, Monteiro has clearly made all those mistakes and doesn’t see why anyone else should.
‘Ruined by Design’ is a polemic which urges designers to think ethically about what they do. If there are problems in the world, Monteiro argues, they are there by design. And he isn’t just preaching to the choir, here; as he says in the introduction:
“If you work in the bowels of a Fortune 500 company, or you work at Facebook or Google, I need you to stay where you are. You’re in a position to affect a lot more people than designers who don’t work at those places, and the fact that you work at a place like that and are reading a book like this, makes me think you want to do the right thing.”
A few honourable mentions:
Any list of resources like this is going to be a subject for much debate, and there are always more candidates than there are positions in a top five (even though we’ve secretly snuck a sixth book in there) so, here are a few books which, on a different day, could well have made the top five.
The Pragmatic Programmer (2000) by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas
Instead of teaching what to program, the book gives practical examples and advice on how to program.
Above the Fold: Understanding the Principles of Successful Web Site Design (2011) by Brian D. Miller
This book concerns the fundamentals of sound communication design online.
Pricing Design (2016) by Dan Mall
Knowing how to price-up your work is always tricky, this book tells you what your clients really want and what they’re willing to pay for.
Web Designer’s Idea Book (2008) by Patrick McNeil
This is the first of four volumes, each of which is crammed full of hundreds of examples of best practice and great ideas.
Steal Like an Artist (2012) by Austin Kleon
This manifesto on creativity is full of empowering advice such as “Don’t wait until you find out who you are to get started”.
Which books couldn’t you put down?
And, while we’re on the subject of debate, please do tell us which essential books we’ve missed out of our list by visiting us on social media and telling us your favourite design and development books.