web design books, The books that should be on any web pro’s bookshelf.
Web design books made from dead trees, eh? Things from the past! Haven’t you heard we’ve got that spangly new internet thing now? While you can find a whole world of information online, web design books show no signs of waning in popularity. When you’ve been glued to a screen all day, it can be great to sit back in a comfy chair with a fantastic web design book that can educate and illuminate.
The finest examples provide advice and insight in a manner that few single-shot website articles can compete with. Here leading designers, developers and web industry folk reveal their favorite web design books. The resulting selection is a collection of the very best insight into cutting-edge design and development techniques, inspirational texts, and beautiful volumes to admire.
01. Technically Wrong
Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Technically Wrong explores the (often invisible) biases, that shape the design and engineering of our software.
“Technology designed without considering the ways it can affect people from a multitude of backgrounds can sometimes have devastating consequences, as the book explores,” says Inayaili de León Persson. “Reading it has reinforced the idea that, as designers, we must actively strive to create products that are inclusive and truly consider the impact they will have on society. Since I read it, I always try to keep that in mind, in meetings, workshops, conversations, and to be vocal about those issues.”
02. Make it Now
Anthony Burrill’s Make it Now is a a beautiful compilation of his work, stretching from his student projects right through his career. “It’s a great inspiration to find your own voice,” says Fore Design‘s Dan Perrera. “He has a wonderful writing style – short sentences that get right to the point – which made the book a real pleasure to read. Most importantly though, it was a real motivator to bust through my doubts and get started on a project – now.”
03. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, blogger Mark Manson offers a self-help guide with a difference, suggesting we don’t need to be ‘positive’ all the time. It’s a favourite of Sush Kelly, who despite being a designer and developer, doesn’t often read technical books.
“I’ve had as many ‘a-ha’ moments reading it as I would when reading a book on something like CSS Grid,” he says. “With the constant stream of information from social, it’s easy to compare yourself with the prominent designers and developers you see. Not everyone can be exceptional: once you accept this and set your goals appropriately, life becomes much more satisfying. We have a limited amount of fucks to give in life; this book has helped me start to choose them wisely!”
04. The User Experience Team of One
The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley offers techniques and approaches to help you tackle UX when you don’t have much time or many resources.
“Like many other designers, I’ve had frustrations convincing certain clients of the value of UX resources and time on projects,” comments JH‘s Warren Challenger. “This book reminded me that I’m not alone in this fight: larger projects and budgets suffer in the same way. In the book, the author talks you through exercises and teaches you only to do what you need to complete your goals. You can achieve a lot when you remove the formal process: be more flexible and cut to the chase.”
05. Adaptive Web Design
Aaron Gustafson’s Adaptive Web Design helps you understand the history, mechanisms and practical application of progressive enhancement.
Jeffrey Zeldman heartily recommends it: “Coined by Steven Champeon of the Web Standards Project in the early 2000s, ‘progressive enhancement’ is the key idea behind standards-based web design. Both a method and a philosophy, it yields experiences that are accessible to all. Through mastery of progressive enhancement, we stop designing for browsers and start designing for people. No one has done a better, clearer, or more thorough job of illuminating progressive enhancement in all its richness than Gustafson… nor is anyone likely to.”
06. Inside the Nudge Unit
Inside the Nudge Unit by David Halpern explains how a team of behavioural economists set up the government’s Behavioural Insights Team, with the aim of helping people ‘better choices for themselves’. “I read this book at an important time; I was thinking a lot about psychology and design and how both seemed to be siloed,” says BehaviourStudio founder Lauren Kelly. “Reading this book solidified my ideas that behavioural insight should – and could – be brought into the design process.”
The premise behind this book is that everything we know about solving problems is wrong, and we should instead learn to rapidly experiment and adapt. Although not directly related to the web industry, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure’s general themes can be beneficial to all.
“Harford provides examples of how trial and error can be a more effective way to solve complex problems, and how trials can be structured to produce the best results,” explains social software consultant and writer Suw Charman-Anderson. Illustrated with examples such as the development of the Spitfire, and the financial crisis, Harford explores what environments encourage innovation and how that innovation can then be adopted and expanded.”
08. CSS3 for Web Designers
Dan Cederholm’s book aims to show how CSS3 is a “universe of creative possibilities”, providing insight into web fonts, advanced selectors and the many visual enhancements the technology can bring to web pages. A second, updated edition was published in 2015.
Eric Meyer, An Event Apart partner and co-founder, says: “With Dan you know you’re getting great visual design with a fun theme, wrapped around great technical information. This book delivers big time.”
09. Design is a Job
Design isn’t all about visuals, aesthetics, usability and crafting something beautiful. It’s also about all the things that surround that, enabling you to build a business. Mike Monteiro’s aim in this volume is to help you do that part of your job better, learning how to deal with clients and contracts. It’s ideal for designers looking to set up shop – or even those who have been running a business for a while.
“It’s basically a compilation of every wrong decision I’ve ever made in my decade of running a business, but it was also a major confidence-booster,” says Fore Design co-owner Amy Parker. “I’ve learned all the lessons of what not to do that Mike outlines in the book and figured out what to do instead.”
“After Mike’s brilliant ‘Fuck You. Pay Me‘ talk at Creative Mornings, it was a no-brainer to buy his book on the topics of contracts, selling design and dealing with clients – this is a must read,” adds creative director Mark Collins.
10. The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries and Laura Ries is one of the most influential books in Cheers Creative‘s Dana James Mwangi’s career.
“It was a huge shift in mindset for me, changed my company’s approach to web design, and increased the value of our offerings,” she says. “Just as Mercedes owns the word ‘luxury’, we want to help brands own a word in the minds of consumers. From aesthetic choices like colours and typefaces to tone of voice, 22 Laws helps us develop website strategy and design for clients with this aim in mind.”
11. Don’t Make Me Think
If you work in web design and haven’t read this classic tome by Steve Krug, make sure you correct that ASAP. Basically the bible of web usability, it’s written in a concise way that makes it easy to consume on your commute. First published in 2000, an updated version explores mobile as well as web usability.
“Anyone who designs, codes, writes, owns, or directs websites should read and memorise this book,” argues Jeffrey Zeldman. “Whereas earlier usability books are scolding, parental, and anti-creative in tone, Steve makes the case for web usability compelling, friendly, and fun. I naively saw usability as the enemy of design until I read this book. It will work equal wonders for the marketers, developers, project managers, and content folks on your team… or for anyone who wants their website to delight its users.”
12. Getting Things Done
“One of the greatest problems faced by web design freelancers is stress. Running your own business and dealing with demanding clients leaves many freelancers lying in bed worrying and feeling completely overwhelmed,” comments Paul Boag.
“Allen’s book proposes a way of organising one’s life to strike the balance between work and home. Although not for everybody, it certainly made an enormous difference for me, enabling me to feel in control of my ever-growing workload.”
13. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters aims to differentiate itself from its rivals by not stretching an essay like argument to hundreds of pages. Instead, says the author, it “presents views on a range of issues that are fundamental, but which have not been given much daylight”.
This gelled with Leisa Reichelt: “It’s not exactly a web book, but I wish more web industry people would read it so that we could spend more time making better things.”
14. Mobile First
Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First is a strategic guide to mobile web design, which asks and answers why you should go mobile first, and how to achieve such goals. While it’s a little old now (it was originally published in 2011), it still includes plenty of great advice.
“When you want solid research and statistics on any web-related topic, Luke is your guy,” says Aaron Gustafson. “His treatise on mobile is packed with incredibly valuable – and sometimes surprising – information that will help you better understand the mobile landscape and better sell its promise to your clients.”
It’s safe to say Basecamp is not a typical company, but its success shows there can be a better way to work, without meetings, spending your entire savings, or working ridiculous hours. ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever, was written by the company’s founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, and provides a glimpse inside how Basecamp works.
UI designer Maykel Loomans finds it invaluable: “The book’s a staple when anyone asks me about designing, developing or wanting to create just about anything software-related. The power of ReWork lies in how clear-cut all the statements are. It’s not a book that contains information that should be taken at face value, but it does give a lot of empowerment and it’s a breeze to get through.”
16. Steal like an Artist
Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist is a book about process, and what the author learned during his design career. “There are many lessons here that are so stupidly obvious, but when they’re written down they bring a lot of empowerment to the reader,” comments UI designer Maykel Loomans. The book began life as a list, and then a slide presentation, before becoming a lively, engaging and entertaining book for improving your creative life.
17. The Elements of Typographic Style
Before you understand the technical aspects of typesetting on the web, you have to understand the principles underpinning it. First published in 1992, this beautifully written manual from Robert Bringhurst sets out the history of typography and is a practical guide to its use.
Thanks to technical advancements, web designers have more control than ever over the way their text is displayed. Which means designers need to understand the principles of typography more than ever before.
“This book goes into incredible depth and detail, making it indispensable for anyone wanting to make their web typography both legible and beautiful,” says designer Laura Kalbag.
18. The Happiness Project
Are you happy? Gretchen Rubin one rainy afternoon realised she could be happier and embarked on her project, setting resolutions and figuring out what worked for her. The result is a thoughtful, practical and humorous story that could inspire you to your own paths to happiness.
Sarah Parmenter elaborates on why it’s an important inclusion in our list: “It reminded me that there’s more to life than sitting in front of a Mac. Work-life balance is incredibly important in what we do, and this book can be read as a quick pick me up at any time.”
19. Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is concerned with thought processes and how we make decisions: why we’re more likely to believe something that’s in a bold typeface; why we assume someone who’s good-looking will be more competent; and so on.
Designer and developer Sebastian Green says: “As competition on the web increases, we are all looking for ways to create better sites. Going down the psychology route is the next step, and this book provides insight into how we are influenced, and how we interpret and respond to questions.”
20. The Victorian Internet
According to Eric Meyer, this book by Tom Standage is a “compact, fascinating examination of how the internet parallels the telegraph system very closely, and how the world was even more technologically disrupted and future-shocked by the telegraph than we could ever aspire to be”.
Standage himself is proud of the book’s longevity, noting on his website that he got to “make fun of the internet, by showing that even such a quintessentially modern technology actually has roots going back a long way – in this case, to a bunch of electrified monks in 1746”.