My history with Transcending CSS
In 2006/early 2007 I read this amazing book. I was half way through my first year studying Digital Design, and I’d only been experimenting with standards-based web design for about six months after reading Web Standards Solutions.
Transcending CSS covered properties I’d never heard of before, like z-index, and Andy Clarke wrote it with such complete conviction that you couldn’t argue with his points for progressive enhancement. I read it twice over and kept it on my desk for about two years. My only issue was that there wasn’t any index, so I wrote my own contents for the frequently-referenced pages in the front of the book in pencil.
Anticipating Hardboiled Web Design
In the early days of Transcending CSS, I wasn’t on Twitter and I didn’t much follow the ‘industry’ around web design. I wasn’t really sure who Andy Clarke was, I just knew that he wrote this book I really liked.
Three years later and I’m a full time freelance designer, always on Twitter, and always trying to keep up with the latest and greatest in the most practical way possible. When Hardboiled Web Design was announced by Five Simple Steps, I’ll admit I was pretty excited. I loved A Practical Guide to Designing For The Web (also by Five Simple Steps) which only made me keener.
I followed all of Andy’s tweets about #hardboiledwebdesign so I knew what to expect from the book. As I’m now following the goings-on of HTML5 and CSS3 a lot closer, I knew it probably wouldn’t have the same appeal as my wow-this-is-what-the-web-can-really-do awe of Transcending CSS, but it still didn’t disappoint.
Hardboiled Web Design
The book is predictably well-written. It’s not too formal, not overly-instructional and very friendly. That’s already an improvement on the majority of books about web development. Sometimes the tone is a bit scary-in-a-good-way, you can really tell how much Andy cares about pushing the web forward.
The book is themed around detective stories. I found the detective novel references a bit much at times, but that’s because I’ve never read any (not that I wouldn’t, I just haven’t!) It started to feel a bit like an in-joke I wasn’t a part of, but did make for lovely illustrations and content examples.
Worth it for the inspiration alone
The first quarter of the book is dedicated to telling you why you bother with new innovations in web development. You’re loaded with ways to persuade your clients or bosses to go along with it too. If you’ve been um-ing and ah-ing about using HTML5 or CSS3 then this chapter is for you. Even if you haven’t, like I hadn’t, it’s really valuable to have someone else put forward the arguments in an easy-to-understand way.
HTML5, CSS3 and the rest
The HTML5 and CSS3 examples are great. I found some of the CSS a bit hard to follow through reading alone, as not every code example had an accompanying image to illustrate it, but it was great to read in front of a text editor. As soon as you try out the examples in the book yourself, it all becomes much clearer.
What really was the big thing for me was the inclusion of microformats. I’ve been working with microformats for a couple of years and I’m smitten. Anything that helps me write better, more semantic, more useful markup is my thing. It’s really good to see microformats getting the attention and explanation they deserve. Andy does them justice and gives some really useful examples, especially on combining different specifications.
I bought the bundle package from Five Simple Steps that included the book itself, a PDF version (available for instant download) and a poster.
I liked the idea of having the PDF for reading using iBooks on my iPhone and iPad. This was a bit of an issue, as the PDF has the same layout as the book itself, including very wide margins. This made for easy reading at full size on my mac, slightly eye-straining use on my iPad and a right nightmare on the iPhone. To read the text on iPhone, you have to zoom about a lot. Alongside constant scrolling to read the full width in the page, it’s not the most comfortable reading experience.
I don’t necessarily think it should have been designed for these small devices! I’m just saying that I wouldn’t buy the PDF if iPhone usage (or even iPad, really) was what you had in mind.
No index again!
Again, the biggest issue for me was the absence of an index. With a book so full of useful examples, I’m constantly flicking through trying to find the example I remembered from the first read. Having the PDF is useful, as you can use a search function to find what you’re looking for, but fiddling about opening PDF files isn’t really for me when I could just grab the book from next to my desk. So, I’ve gone back to the old-school and have started sticking postits in as bookmarks. I like the idea that it looks like a much-loved textbook!
Should you buy Hardboiled Web Design?
Absolutely, without a doubt, yes.
Alongside HTML5 For Web Designers, I think that Hardboiled Web Design would go a very long way to prepare a web designer (designer-developer) for all these amazing new technologies.
Not only do you get the low-down on how to use it, you get the most important arguments of why and when that seem to be holding so many designers back.