Books : reviews

Vincent Flanders, Michael Willis.
Web Pages the Suck: learning good design by looking at bad design.
Sybex. 1998

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 2 July 1999

This is "the book of the Web page", Flanders and Willis set out to teach good Web page design, not by the usual route of pulling pretty pages out of a magic hat and saying "do this" (without ever quite explaining what "this" is, or how to achieve it), but by providing lots of counter-examples, explaining why they don't work, and saying "don't do this".

The authors mainly confine themselves to (what should be) professionally produced corporate sites, rather than the many truly awful, much derided, personal home pages. [This review appearing on my personal home page does make me feel a little nervous, though. I might not have any of the more horrific animated gifs or multi-framed pages, but I don't have a slick, professionally designed, glossy front page, either. Never mind. On with the critique.]

Finding bad Web pages, although fun, might seem rather like shooting fish in a barrel. However, it is the explanations of just what is wrong, and how to make it right, that makes this book useful. The emphasis is on commercial pages, the ones that are there to sell a product, that need to grab the customers, and to keep them coming back. For this reason their central theme is "content is king" -- there has to be something about your site to catch and keep the customers' interest. There are also good tips about how to handle graphics, colour, text, and site navigation. As well as the big points, the text is peppered with good tips such as "don't use a spinning globe icon", "don't use black backgrounds", "don't forget to have a contact point", and "don't use local slang". ([I can't help it ... I just can't resist the temptation ...] I believe "suck" to be American slang for "is/are very bad".)

The material is amusingly presented (rather relentlessly so, I felt after a while). And although the advice is good, it seems a little repetitive in places, and with less detail and fewer examples than I would have liked. I would have preferred more on design itself, and less on the chapters towards the end (such as "How to Market Your Site"), which I felt were filler material -- although the advice is useful, it is about how to get people to go to your site in the first place, not about the design issues of getting them to stay, and to come back. But if most sites followed the "don't"s, they would definitely suck less, and the surfers' lot would be much improved.