In 1999, we reviewed the first edition of Web Design in a Nutshell, finding it an extraordinary breath of fresh air: full of common sense, hard facts, intelligent rules of thumb, and scrupulously fair guidance for web designers at all levels of experience. Jennifer Niederst has thoroughly updated her bestseller to reflect pretty much all the latest trends and realities of Web development.
In both editions, we've loved the perspective Niederst brings to web design. Hey, she's been doing this since 1993, before most folks had ever heard of the Web. She doesn't get carried away with the latest hype: she's more interested in helping you do what works. Having seen it all, she's able to write intelligently about virtually every web design technology -- and where space doesn't permit sufficient coverage, she offers updated web references for finding out more.
The book starts with a cogent overview of the challenges the Web presents to designers, including how to design for a variety of browsers, monitors, and output devices; and how to cope with color on the web. Along the way, she calls special attention to key issues new web designers always forget, and experienced designers occasionally need to be reminded about. (For example, what should almost always go "above the fold" on your site's first page?)
While Niederst targets her books at designers, not programmers, she clearly recognizes that designers must increasingly accommodate some pretty heavy-duty technologies. She introduces enough of the fundamentals of Web development to help designers participate intelligently in enterprise Web development teams. Also included: a "beginner's guide to the server," showing how web server directory structures are typically organized; how FTP works; and what MIME types are (complete with a detailed table of the most common, from .AI to .ZIP).
Web Design in a Nutshell includes a detailed section on HTML, fully updated to reflect the HTML 4.01 specification and the latest browsers: Internet Explorer 6 (which ships with Microsoft Windows XP), and Netscape 6.x (which, in its 6.1 incarnation, may finally be gaining a bit of traction in the marketplace). In connection with the update to HTML 4.01, Niederst has recast many of her examples using Cascading Style Sheets. (Hey, if you're still not using them, it may finally be safe to jump aboard.)
Niederst's HTML coverage encompasses everything from WYSIWYG tools to good HTML style, and brings together all that information it's hard to get your hands on (decimal to hexadecimal equivalents for specifying RGB color values, character entity codes for (c), and the like). There's also a detailed chapter on hyperlinking (including targeting windows, non-web links and protocols, and linking documents with .)
Even HTML 4.01, of course, is getting long in the tooth. Niederst presents concise, gentle introductions to both XML and XHTML, giving designers a heads-up on where these technologies are headed. There's even new coverage of WAP and the unique issues associated with designing wireless applications.
The Second Edition adds a new chapter on ensuring accessibility for individuals with hearing, sight, and other physical impairments. The highlights include fourteen practical guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (for instance, "provide context and orientation information" -- make sure you clearly label all frames, sections, and page structures that would require extra explanation for those who can't see them). Niederst also points you to www.cast.org/bobby/, where there's a validator that'll scan your page and point out accessibility issues.
Speaking of accessibility challenges, there's also a new chapter on Macromedia Flash and Shockwave -- part of a complete section on Web multimedia and interactivity. Along the way, Niederst covers animated GIFs, streaming and non-streaming audio (including optimizing audio clips); digital video formats, QuickTime, and more.
Detailed appendices present HTML tags and elements, attributes, deprecated and proprietary tags, CSS compatibility information, and more. Hard as it is to believe, Web Design in a Nutshell, Second Edition delivers even more useful information than the first go-round. Quite impressive. (Bill Camarda)
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. He served for nearly ten years as vice president of a New Jerseybased marketing company, where he supervised a wide range of graphics and web design projects. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.