Book review of "Web Design On A Shoestring" (free)
Carrie Bickner's book "Web Design On A Shoestring" is being much talked-about as a good blueprint for techniques, technologies and processes to get maximum-quality web sites on a minimal budget. DMXzone staffer Bruce Lawson reviews the book, and as a bonus, you can read chapter two of the book "The Pound Wise Project Plan".
The title of this book is both accurate and simultaneously misleading; it does teach how to make web sites on a shoestring, but it also feels like it's going to tell you how to use that copy of FrontPage that you got with MS Office, together with some clipart and animated GIFs in order to make a table-heavy, midi-muzakked "killer homepage".
I believe that, at some point during the writing, it was codenamed "how to make a site on a shoestring that looks a million dollars" which would be more accurate (although a little cumbersome and too big to fit on the book's spine!). It's a book for web designers with a low budget (whether in the public sector, freelancers or - let's be frank - practically everyone these days).
The author, Carrie Bicker, has an excellent pedigree of working on some good, non-homepage, sites: she works for The New York Public Library, where she is The Digital Library's Assistant Director for Digital Information and System Design. From the autumn of 1999 until the spring of 2002, she was The Branch Libraries' Web Coordinator. The best known project from this stint is probably the NYPL Online Style Guide, which shows how to author web sites in valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional and Cascading Style Sheets, co-written with Jeffrey Zeldman of The Web Standards Project, so it's a fair bet that, as a librarian, she doesn't have a monster budget, but is adept at making industrial strength sites.
Let's look at the book in more detail:
Chapter One - Secrets of a Successful Shoestring Project
- Uses the resources at hand. You've got PHP on a machine and know how to use it? Then use it; don't decide ASP.NET will be better and spend time installing it, learning how to use it!
- Is managed by a small group of decision makers. Remember, a camel is just a horse that was designed by a committee.
- Has a clear focus. Few things eat budgets faster than wasted man hours changing tack half way through, navel-gazing or not specifying a project so scope-creep sets in.
- Dares to do less. This is a phrase from Tim Bray, the co-inventor of XML, who says that technologies that are successful do one of two things very well, rather than trying to be a jack-of-trades. It becomes Bickner's mantra throughout the book. Basically, if you've got limited resources, do what you can do well, and don't attempt unnecessary frills like flash intros, cunning 360°panoramas on a live web cam of the stock room of the furniture shop that the web site is for. You don't need it; it doesn't add value to the user, and it'll eat your budget faster than my daughter can make herself chocolate-sick on Christmas day.
A project such as this, with in-house photography, simple and clean design can be seen at http://www.nodltd.com/ronco/index.shtml
Following a degree in Chemistry and a doctorate in Scanning Tunneling Microscopy, Ian spent several years wrestling with acronyms in industrial R&D (SEM with a side order of EDS, AFM and TEM augmented with a topping of XPS and SIMS and yet more SEM and TEM).
Feeling that he needed a career with more terminology but less high voltages, Ian became a technical/commissioning editor with Wrox Press working on books as diverse as Beg VB Application Development and Professional Java Security. After Wrox's dissolution and a few short term assignments Ian became content manager at DMXzone.
Ian is a refugee from the industrial Black Country having slipped across the border to live in Birmingham. In his spare time he helps out with the website of a local history society, tries to makes sure he does what his wife Kate says, and worries that the little 'un Noah is already more grown up than he is.