Book Reviews by Heidi Boudro

Learning Web Design

Reviewed by Heidi Boudro

Somehow I had never seriously considered learning HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), the "language" used to change or "mark up" a word-processed document into a web page that can be displayed by a web browser. Once I broke through that conceptual block, I set out to get the right materials.

Learning Web Design: A Beginner's Guide to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Web Graphics, by Jennifer Niederst, begins helpfully with a chapter entitled "Where Do I Start?"; again, the biggest block to web proficiency seems to be getting started. My copy came with a disk containing sample documents for lessons and trial software (HTML editors, graphic design software, etc.) to use with the lessons. About half of my edition (the second) was a tutorial for learning HTML and half a tutorial for graphic design. The third edition has been significantly updated to cover the latest languages and techniques.

Creating a Website: The Missing Manual, by Matthew MacDonald, starts with an excellent overview of the web and proceeds to a detailed, chatty discussion of HTML and other technical and practical aspects of putting up a web site. It is not a tutorial, but it does contain instructions and examples. Its orientation is practical, toward actually getting something done; but it also provides significant background and context.

I needed both books. I got stuck halfway through Learning Web Design's HTML tutorial; HTML is not difficult but apparently I had not grasped it conceptually. I monkeyed with repairing HTML on my own site that Microsoft Word had jumbled. ("They" were right when "they" said not to create a web site with Microsoft Word.) Suddenly the more narrative discussion in Creating a Website made sense. I started Learning Web Design again from the beginning and it all clicked.

My next project is to work through the award-winning, tutorial-based CSS: The Missing Manual by David Sawyer McFarland. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), a relatively recent innovation, is a sort of add-on language to HTML that instructs the web browser on layout and display of web pages.

The Unusually Useful Web Book, by June Cohen, really is unusually useful. The book is a distillation of the experience of dozens of industry experts on every possible facet of putting up and maintaining web sites. (As stated on the cover: "Everything we've learned about why sites succeed!" It is as practical as possible--checklists, worksheets ("What Will You Do With Your Web Site?"; "Writing Your Product Plan"; "How Will You Promote Your Site?"), lists of techniques and steps to take. It is also filled with interviews and features ("lessons from the trenches") on specific problems. I can't imagine a better way to become familiar with technical issues, marketing issues, design and usability issues, and terminology than with this excellent book.

Addendum: I can now "hand-code" HTML. In fact, I occasionally think in HTML, mentally tagging my own thoughts.

Copyright © 2007 by Heidi Boudro