The Principles of Beautiful Web Design, by Jason Beaird, ISBN: 0-9758419-6-3

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, August 2007
Published by: Sitepoint
Requires: N/A

MSRP: US$39.95, CAN$51.95

The contents of The Principles of Beautiful Web Design accurately reflect this title written by graphic designer Jason Beaird. The book contains lots of lovely designs and lots of examples of beautiful web sites that you can visit right now. Reviewing what some people call beautiful always presents some dangers, the most obvious of which is the fact that conventional beauty in web site design is a wildly subjective thing. While it's true that general agreement on what constitutes a beautiful design can be found in every demographic, it is just as true that many successful designers have a very narrow view of what they consider beautiful. As well, the majority of graphic designers tasked with designing business web sites tend to focus more on the look and feel of a site than its content and how well or easily that content can be found by search engines.

The most beautiful web site on earth is fundamentally worthless if it can't be found through the search engines. Web designers focused on exotic, pretty or unique graphic design as an end in itself are the bane of successful web developers. The best web developer for any business is one who understands the immense value of combining good design with effective and optimized copy writing, smart programming, extensive search engine optimization and regular, consistent statistical analysis. Pure graphic designers who hang out a shingle which says "Web Designer" often create beautiful business web sites which don't attract traffic. A beautiful business web site with no traffic might as well not exist. Sitepoint and Beaird do not provide any perspective however—there's essentially no mention of all the other creative and technical principles which must be obeyed in order to create a truly successful business web site.


In one bit of advice, Beaird talks about how the human eye tends to scan a page of content (left to right, top to bottom). It's all good, basic principles of user interface design. But the author then provides innumerable examples of home page designs featuring large graphics and illustrations positioned at the top of the page. This design approach tends to force actual content (text, product descriptions, links, etc.) below the visible part of the browser window, which necessitates scrolling to read the content. That's a potential disaster for businesses trying to create web sites which attract and hold potential customers, because for many people, the bottom of the browser window is the bottom of the readable page. Sometimes they scroll; sometimes they don't. Seasoned web developers know that visual fatigue sets in quite quickly if a site features too much eye candy, and that makes site visitors less likely to scroll to read or get at information below the bottom of the browser window. The point of a business web site is to convey information, sell a product, promote and sell a service and so on. If people never find your site, what is the value of its beauty? It's interesting to note throughout the book that most of the comparatively unknown sites used as examples of beautiful design make use of large graphics and illustrations at the top of the home page, while most of the examples of good looking and highly successful commercial web sites do not use large graphics and illustrations at the top of the home page.

Buy the book for its respectable coverage of typography and fonts, for its coverage of color, and for its good general advice about page layout. On the other hand, you could also purchase one of the many excellent books on those same subjects written by people who are lot more experienced than Beaird. Do not buy the book to help you put your web site on the map.

Cons: The book adheres strictly to the subject matter, which is great, but makes no significant mention of the fact that it's not a complete path to successful business web site design. The book's title is not accurate in our opinion because there's no coverage and little mention of dynamic programming using PHP, AJAX, DHTML and other commonly used techniques for enhancing the look, feel and functionality of successful and well optimized web sites. In our opinion, beauty is more than skin deep—it resides partly in looks and layout, but just as importantly in clean functionality, speed, navigability and optimized content. The problem is, Beaird does not seem to be a true web developer. He is a talented graphic designer who fails to deal with the ultimate point of creating beautiful business web sites: getting found by the search engines. Sitepoint's back cover heading "You Don't Need to go to Art School to Design Great Looking Web Sites" is deceiving mainly because (and you can quote us on this) "You Do Need to Understand and Implement Good Copy Writing, Great Search Engine Optimization and Ongoing Analysis to Design Effective Great Looking Web Sites." Place emphasis on the word Effective.

Pros: If your tastes tend toward designs and layouts that follow a set of traditional techniques that have been successfully transferred from the printed paged to the web, this book is for you. If you've already got some design ideas and need a reference of some sort which will help you make competent font, color and composition choices, this book is for you. If you lack an understanding of the fundamentals of graphic design for web sites, this book is for you. Well written and extensively illustrated. If Sitepoint decides to reissue the book under the title "Typography, Layout and Color for Web Site Design" I can almost guarantee it will get a better review and a four-star rating.

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