Web Pages That Suck: Learn Good Design by Looking at Bad Design

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Buyers and consumers beware -- this book is expected to become the best-selling Web design book ever!!! Based on the hugely popular, award winning site (webpagesthatsuck.com), this beautiful four-color book effectively uses humor and down-to-Earth tactics to teach successful Web design to the masses. There is no better way to learn what works than by discussing what doesn't and then applying some common sense and practical guidance to fix them up. Expect to see authors Flanders and Willis all over the place -- on...
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Buyers and consumers beware -- this book is expected to become the best-selling Web design book ever!!! Based on the hugely popular, award winning site (webpagesthatsuck.com), this beautiful four-color book effectively uses humor and down-to-Earth tactics to teach successful Web design to the masses. There is no better way to learn what works than by discussing what doesn't and then applying some common sense and practical guidance to fix them up. Expect to see authors Flanders and Willis all over the place -- on TV, on radio, in print, and even in person. They are shameless self-promoters who are quickly becoming the Internet gurus. Remember, this book is for everyone from typical Web surfers to professional Web designers. As a bonus, the companion CD is packed with valuable "Software that Doesn't Suck" plus all the HTML from the book.

Here's the straight dope on the World Wide Web -- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Movies have Siskel and Ebert...Web sites have Flanders and Willis. If you design Web sites, plan to build one, or are just an active surfer, you need to hear what they have to say. Funny, opinionated, and always to-the-point, Flanders and Willis have developed a reputation for being the Web's leading critics

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Everyone knows that you learn from your mistakes, but in Web Pages That Suck: Learn Good Design By Looking at Bad Design, Vincent Flanders and Michael Willis give everyone the chance to learn from other people's mistakes! In this book, based on the award-winning web site WebPagesThatSuck.com, the authors spare no one to help their audience learn everything from the most common mistakes that web designers make to the more subtle aspects of creating a site.

The no-mercy approach that Flanders and Willis take isn't just about cutting down sites. They don't waste everyone's time with cookie-cutter advice. Instead they take the time to examine why the sites don't work — and more important, explain how they could be fixed. The Web is constantly changing, and a staid formula will never work, the authors suggest; there are plenty of fresh approaches to creating an innovative site that will draw in an audience.

Web Pages That Suck doesn't stop with exposing the problems of poor sites. The authors give clear explanations about how to market your site, generate traffic, and make money from online ventures. Since there are many different kinds of audiences out there on the Web, the authors focus on several types of sites. Whether you are targeting a business audience or a nonprofit audience, or you just want to draw people to your own ego site, Flanders and Willis will tell you what steps are necessary.

The authors take readers on a logical path from site design and navigation through content, graphics, site maintenance, and much more. They discuss everything fromthemost basic marketing questions to more specific questions, such as which search engine is most important to register with.

Whether you seek help with a graphic or want to begin or completely retool a site, you'll find everything you need to know in the pages of Web Pages That Suck: Learn Good Design By Looking at Bad Design. The book even comes with a CD-ROM that contains HomeSite 3, Gif Builder, Gifmation, Coffee Cup Stylesheet Maker++, Html Rename!, Web Razor, and more software that doesn't suck!

John S. Rhodes

Capitalistic Hippies

I recently reviewed Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. While the book certainly provides excellent theory and background information about Web site development, I feel that it lacks the nitty-gritty details that are eventually required for the creation of a great Web site.

This isn't a slam, but I think that Rosenfeld and Morville's book is, well, stuffy at times. They were educated and trained as librarians, and their writing is as crisp and clean as their background would imply. The book is great, but it is also conservative and occasionally aloof.

In contrast, Web Pages That Suck, by Vincent Flanders and Michael Willis, knocked my socks off because it is so zany and offbeat. The title alone evokes an image of witty, creative fun. The book is an adventuresome roller-coaster ride, based on their popular Web site www.WebPagesThatSuck.com. If you visit the site you'll notice that it visually hits you over the head, and its design is not entirely conventional. Furthermore, the site violates all kinds of design principles. For example, virtually everyone that I have asked about the site says the same thing -- Flanders and Willis use frames way too much, especially on the pages with examples.

In my opinion, Flanders and Willis were brave souls to trust that their offbeat style would successfully carry over to print. Yet, it is hard to deny that the approach works. I would even be roused to say that the book is superior and far more handy than the Web site. While they basically have the same content, the book is much more user-friendly. Accessing and understanding the information is easier because it is better organized. The bottom line is that the content of the book is excellent, and the authors' offbeat style makes the book enjoyable.

Judging from their cover art and photographs, you might think that the authors are morons. You would be quite wrong. They aren't morons, they're oxymorons -- they look and sound like nutty, capitalistic hippies. And that's fine. They wallow in the fact that they are Internet rebels and I greatly enjoy their bizarre style. The result of their bold approach is ridiculous but purposeful.

What Do You Really Get From These Guys?

Given the authors' personalities, it does not shock me that the book's writing is absolutely dreadful at times. I feel that the somewhat erratic writing and design of the Web site was allowed into the book, when it should have been edited out. The editing makes me dizzy, the authors often use choppy sentences, and they can be downright annoying. But, they have such helpful tips and they are so far over the top that I can't help but enjoy their book. They offer just enough theory about Web site development to get you by, and then they hit you over the head with a gazillion hints and tricks.

From the standpoint of usability and human factors, Flanders and Willis make a solid attempt to focus on the users of a site. They understand that users come first and I feel that they developed their book with this critical fact in mind. Even though they sometimes hop from unrelated idea to unrelated idea, they consistently make you think about how to keep the focus on your users. You won't get hand-fed too many step-by-step, logical design principles. However, if you are willing to mine the book for tips and tricks, you will certainly be able to make your site more usable and useful.

Here is a sampling of the topics that they effectively cover:

  • Knowing the purpose of your site
  • Understanding your audience (i.e., your users)
  • Designing navigational systems
  • Developing content
  • Designing graphics and understanding typography and color schemes
  • Using various levels of technology (i.e., from HTML to JavaScript to XML)
  • Understanding search engines and Web site promotion

When I say that they cover these topics, I'm not kidding. They give you URL after URL. Furthermore, virtually all of their recommended sites were good, for all the right reasons. They give you a problem, then they solve it. They give you just enough details to let you understand what is relevant, and then they move on.

They also provide all kinds of examples. Without exaggeration, about 95% of the pages contain some kind of picture, diagram, or visual cue. And it isn't trash, it's good stuff. The downside, not surprisingly, is that they don't explain enough. At times, they even talk about completely irrelevant things.

Unfortunately, they tend to focus on Web pages rather than Web sites. Too bad. It would have been much better if they took a more global view of Web development. This is a great place to say that I think that Information Architecture for the World Wide Web is a great foil to Web Pages That Suck. You should use both at the same time so that you get a balanced dose of Web site design advice.


Supposedly, Web Pages That Suck is based on the idea that you can learn good design by looking at bad design. I don't buy that idea at all. Indeed, even the authors readily admit that their book primarily looks at Web sites that are pretty good, but have some minor problems. The result is that Web Pages That Suck has very few bad examples, and I think that you learn more that way. So, let's get the story straight. Flanders and Willis provide so many good examples that it is a crime to say that understanding bad design is the key to good design.

I fully recommend this book to most levels of Web site developers, information architects, and especially neophytes. As long as you can stomach the tackiness and poor editing of the book, you simply can't go wrong. The accompanying CD-ROM is good, the tips and tricks are excellent, and the overall content is vastly superior to other Web books of this ilk.

The bottom line is that Web Pages That Suck isn't a simple Web site development book. It is a nuts-and-bolts, do-it-yourself manual plastered with outstanding advice.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780782121872
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/1/1998
  • Edition description: Book and CD-ROM
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 8.03 (w) x 10.03 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

1 So You Want to Put Together a Web Site

2 Site Design and Navigation

3 Content is King

4 Fixing Your Graphics Problems

5 Fixing Text Problems

6 Links and Frames

7 It's Not Called the Bleeding Edge for Nothing

8 Maintaining Your Site

9 It Takes More Than Luck to Make a Buck

10 Search Engines and Directories

11 Other Ways to Market Your Site

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Interviews & Essays

On Friday, July 17th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Vincent Flanders and Michael Willis to discuss WEB PAGES THAT SUCK.

Moderator: Welcome, Vincent Flanders and Michael Willis! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this afternoon. How is everything in Chicago?

Vincent Flanders: Everything's swell here. Sold lots of books!

Jennifer from Manhattan: Do you ever have to worry about web sites suing you for saying they suck?

Vincent Flanders: Nah -- our publisher is worried, though.

Jill from Beverly Hills, CA: Do you think it's wise for novices to just start a web site because they think it might be fun, or should you gain experience first?

Vincent Flanders: If it's a personal page, then there's no better way to learn than to just start out and build a site. Check out the really good-looking sites like Barnesandnoble.com, IBM, and Adobe for ideas. Then, try to find a nonprofit (small) and offer to do theirs for free just to get a good reference.

Pac87@aol.com from NJ: Got to ask, do you think any of the bookselling web sites suck? What do you think constitutes a good bookselling web site?

Vincent Flanders: I think the book sites are some of the best examples of design out there! And most important -- they work!

Mark from Ottawa: What is the biggest design mistake you see?

Vincent Flanders: Big graphics! MAKES FOR SLOW DOWNLOADS!

Margo from Washington, D.C.: How do you scour the web for sites that suck? Do you use obscure sites or ones everyone knows?

Vincent Flanders: Actually, most of the sucky ones are sent in to us by folks like you. We also periodically scan the What's New section of the different search engines.

Knordgren@aol.com from xxx: What is the point [of] and future for newspapers and magazine web sites? How can this be advantageous to the magazine or newspaper -- providing free online material? I personally never buy newspapers or magazines anymore. I just read it all online. Also, do you think any particular periodical web sites suck?

Vincent Flanders: I guess it saves trees. I prefer to have it in my hand -- I hate reading online. I print everything out. Go figure.

Dan from MI: What are your opinions on the current portal "craze"? Does packing a page with tons of info really keep people around?

Vincent Flanders: The portal craze is going to continue for a long time simply because that's where the money is. C/Net recently had an article stating the top ten ways to make money on the Web. One of them was to call your site a portal. OK, WEB PAGES THAT SUCK is now a portal! About packing a page with info -- I think it's a little late to get into the portal business. If you've got a web site you should pack it with information relevant to your topic.

John from JWC901@aol.com: Hello Mr. Flanders...what is your web browser of preference?

Vincent Flanders: As a designer, I have to be nonreligious. I'm having trouble with IE 4.0 right now -- it doesn't want to do JavaScript, so I mostly use Navigator.

Mike from Irvine, CA: How exactly does one become a web critic? Do you two consider yourselves to be the Siskel and Ebert of web sites? Who is Siskel? Vince?

Vincent Flanders: I was drafted. Which one's the fat guy? Vince is that guy.

Edmond Price from Bellingham, WA: What do you think about this new Web TV?

Vincent Flanders: I think it's lame. Geez -- has TV gotten that bad???

Jamie from Marlboro, MA: Curious to get both your opinions on what has been happening with Bill Gates and the antitrust suits. Is he creating a monopoly on the market? Poor Netscape...

Vincent Flanders: I personally don't care. Unless Bill Gates proclaims himself the Antichrist, it doesn't affect my life one way or another.

Mark from Ottawa, Canada: So what is the optimum size for a graphic? What would you consider an acceptable download time? Personaly, I use the backbutton like a remote channel changer at times!

Vincent Flanders: Like everything, it depends. If you've got a picture of a naked body -- hey, people will wait forever. If you're a business, my response is 30-60K per page. Yeah, I use the backbutton the same way. You don't want that to happen on your site, and big graphics will do that. Large graphics is probably the number one design flaw.

Phil from Nevada: What in your opinion makes a web site profitable?

Vincent Flanders: Having a product that people want to buy, then getting them there to buy it. No small feat.

Erin from Evanston, IL: Do you have any examples of sites that you helped improve themselves from sites that suck to sites that...don't suck?

Vincent Flanders: Yeah. The governor of Oklahoma had a really, really bad page. It's now 500 percent better. While we were giving our speech yesterday, we ragged on Louisville Slugger about their front page. There was a guy in the audience who was from the company. He ran out and called them up and had it changed before our speech was over.

Niki from Niki_palek@yahoo.com: What do you two think is the best chat software? I-chat?

Vincent Flanders: AOL.

Tim Miller from Tim Miller: Hi.

Vincent Flanders: Hi -- I didn't know we had a state named Miller!

Leonard from Lubbock, TX: What would you say is one of the most common mistakes people make on an ego site?

Vincent Flanders: Putting a 300K picture of themselves on it.

Dusty from WI: What is your favorite web page?

Vincent Flanders: Besides our own [grin]...I like Yahoo for its minimalist effects. I like barnesandnoble.com and the other bookstores -- they know what they're doing. I like Adobe (even though it's a touch large on the graphics) and I like IBM. Cigar Aficionado magazine has a nice site -- but it's definitely large on the graphics. Most of the "portal" sites are very good -- but they're looking very similar to me. C

Vincent Flanders: Net is very good, as is Ziff-Davis and Internet.com.

Elise from Brooklyn, NY: My mother won't let me use the word SUCK. Why do you think that is?

Vincent Flanders: Listen to your mother! Don't be a potty mouth. We used it because it sounded better than "Web Pages That Aren't So Swell."

Romaine from San Diego, CA: Does your book cover the basics in creating a web site, or does it just critique web sites?

Vincent Flanders: We cover the basics and the advanced. What we DON'T do is teach you HTML. We expect that you know it. We show you the common mistakes and tell you how to fix or avoid them. The book was originally supposed to be called "Fixing and Preventing Web Pages That Suck" -- which I think was more descriptive -- but somehow, the title got shortened.

Elana from South Orange, NJ: Do you guys each have an area of expertise, or did you both do everything for this book?

Vincent Flanders: I've been a graphic artist for the last 20 years and got this writing gig by accident. I've never won the lotto.

Pac87@aol.com from NJ: What X-rated sites suck?

Vincent Flanders: I take the 5th.

Bill from NYC: What would you consider the best way for site promotion?

Vincent Flanders: Put your URL on everything! Let everyone know you have a web site. Submit to the search engines...buy our book!

Elana from South Orange, NJ: Do you guys each have an area of expertise, or did you both do everything for this book?

Vincent Flanders: I did most of the writing. Michael provided the graphics expertise and refined the subject matter. He did all the makeovers and lended his expertise about design techniques.

Mark from Ottawa: Is it more profitable writing web sites or books?

Vincent Flanders: Web sites.

Vern from Haverford, PA: What is your web site?

Vincent Flanders: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com

Mya from Rutherford, NJ: What do you think of this ZDTV?

Vincent Flanders: I think it's great!

Andy from Hoboken, NJ: Do you think sites too graphic-heavy tend to look good, but most computers take forever downloading these pages? What is the preference here? Convenience average Americans or have a nicer-looking site?

Vincent Flanders: People want fast-loading pages, they want to get to information fast! They don't care about big, slow graphics! I think you can make a pleasing-looking page without a lot of graphics.

Roger from Winter Park, FL: Do you explain in your book how people can make money by having a web site?

Vincent Flanders: Money is what it's all about. We're the first (to my knowledge) design book that stresses making money through good web design. We've got three chapters on marketing.

Jacob from Wynnewood, PA: It seems like there are a million web-site awards these days. How do you know which ones to believe?

Vincent Flanders: The bigger the company handing out the award, the more you can believe it. Cool Site of the Day, Project Cool, PC Magazine -- any of the magazines -- and of course Yahoo!

Jennifer from Manhattan: Do you ever have to worry about web sites suing you for saying they suck?

Vincent Flanders: No. The Fair Use section of the copyright code is very nice protection. Also, most sites know when they suck but they're usually in a position where they can't fix it.

Mike from MikeMuntz@yahoo.com: Do you think JavaScript sucks?

Vincent Flanders: There's a lot of BAD JS, but there's some good stuff. I'd try not to use it, but we do use some on our site.

Brett from NYC: What do you think about the private web consultation companies popping up across the country? Any you recommend?

Vincent Flanders: I have no experience with these places, so I don't know what to say other than look at their client lists and the work they've done -- and make sure to talk to their clients.

Mark from Ottawa: I realize that [your book] can be ordered online, but for those of us who pay cash only, is it available in a Canadian bookstore?

Vincent Flanders: As far as I know, yes.

Montey Miller from Springfield, VA: Do you think technology has reached a point where real audio or slide shows are worth putting on sites?

Vincent Flanders: Depends on if the people will wait to see them. If you've got content, people will wait forever to see your audio and slide shows. If not, they won't wait.

Arlene from St. Louis, MO: I run a small business from my home selling baked goods in small quantities. How do I know if I can handle the sales a web site would generate? How do I know in advance what kind of sales to expect?

Vincent Flanders: Those kinds of questions are really difficult to answer without knowing more details. A lot of the issues are non-Web related, such as -- how do I ship the baked goods across the country/world? Can I handle online credit-card transactions? Sounds like you need to talk to a consultant. As far as sales go...there's no way to predict. You have to test it out and see.

Ellen from Edina, MN: Does it take a lot of money (like a corporate backer) to make a site that DOES NOT suck?

Vincent Flanders: No. It just takes common sense. Of course, money never hurts.

Mark from Ottawa: After large graphics, what would you say is the biggest blunder? And what is the worst site you have seen?

Vincent Flanders: Bad backgrounds where you can't read the text would be next. The worse site changes daily. A current favorite is seiko.com (I think that's the URL). Here's a big site that should know better.

Maura from Hicksville, New York: Frames: Love 'em or leave 'em? And do you have any examples of sites that use frames well?

Vincent Flanders: Ah, frames. Like most everything, it depends. I always like to tell people to look at IBM, Adobe, barnesandnoble.com, the bookstore sites, Yahoo, the search engine sites -- they don't use frames. There's probably a point here, but I'm not sure what it is. [grin]

JM from Massachusetts: Do you prefer sites with frames or without? BTW: webpagesthatsuck.com is the only site where I read every page. Thought it was great. (Didn't do much work that day though.)

Vincent Flanders: Thanks for the praise! As I told someone else, it depends. Frames serve a purpose and there are times when you need to use them (our site uses them in the Sucky Site section). If you have to use them, you have to use them. If you don't, then I wouldn't use them.

Mark from Ottawa: Thanks for the info... I'll definitely pick up the book. Ciao from the great white north!

Vincent Flanders: Ciao. Sounds great to be somewhere that isn't 105 degrees.

Jodi from Evanston, Illinois: What about sites that try more minimalist designs? What do you think of those?

Vincent Flanders: It depends. I like minimalist design.

Moderator: Thank you, Michael Willis and Vincent Flanders! This has been a very interesting chat. Any parting thoughts for the online audience?

Vincent Flanders: Remember one important fact. Will adding that Java Applet/JavaScript/Flash/large graphic or whatever make people write me a check with lots of zeros in front of the decimal point? If adding the element will cause them to write checks, then you need to add that element. Otherwise, don't. Remember, it's about making money, and you don't want to cause people to leave your site before they write you a check. Cheers.

Vincent Flanders: Buy our book! And look for a movie deal! Thanks for having us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2002

    this should be required reading for webmasters and designers

    This should be required reading for webmasters and designers. Vincent has done an excellent job of demonstrating why it is important that form follow function, especially when organizing information for placement on the web. If more people followed his lead, perhaps less websites would be in that garish, Las Vegas style.

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