Brought to book

Paul Murphy finds the cutting edge of Web Design The Next Generation, the latest in a long line of Web design books, slightly blunted by a ‘ropey’ CD-ROM

So who is making money from the Internet? Is it banks? Is it supermarkets? Is it mail order companies? Is it the media owners – the on-line magazine and newspaper publishers? Or, to look a bit further along the food chain, is it the designers who produce the websites for the above?

While designers and their clients may be locked into a (hopefully) symbiotic relationship, it seems that the chief beneficiaries of the “new media revolution” are actually the old-fashioned book publishers. Three years ago books on the Web would barely fill a shelf in Books Etc’s computer section. Nowadays they occupy bay after bay as far as the eye can see: from Learn Java While You Sleep! to Shout Louder! Shout Longer! An Insider’s Guide to New Media Marketing. And that doesn’t even take account of the glossy gallery type titles like Thames and Hudson’s latest offering, Web Design The Next Generation.

Hot on the heels of coffee table Web tomes like Liz Faber’s Browser and Hotsites by Roger Walton, Web Design The Next Generation distinguishes itself from the pack by the inclusion of a CD-ROM. “At last,” you think, “a Web design book that realises presenting websites as flattened ink and paper things is to miss the point of them – the very interactivity, the information structure, the hypertext, the animation, the joie de vivre – the danger!” And, while it makes total sense to include a CD-ROM with the sites on it and links to the real thing, the real problem here is that this CD-ROM is a pretty ropey affair. For a start, the sites are supplied as screen shots, and inevitably a number of the direct links from the CD-ROM to “the information superhighway” lead to no more than dead ends in the back streets of some grotty housing estate.

The book itself is bright and glossy with a pop-grunge sort of feel about it. The phrase “cutting edge” seems to pop up on every other page. There are “cutting edge commercial websites”, “cutting edge design firms” and even a “cutting edge Web guide”. This shouldn’t really surprise as there is a tendency to equate the Web and Web design with the early pioneer spirit pushing forward the frontiers into the unknown and undiscovered. While the implied idea of Web design being in some way dangerous is clearly ludicrous (unless you happen to be the client, and then the only danger is to your money), Donnelly’s text tends to be more informative than most. Each site is presented through a page or two of screen shots along with a description of what the site is like to navigate and use and an outline of techniques used on the site.

Web Design The Next Generation prides itself on its introduction, written by graphic design guru David Carson. His name on the cover is bigger than that of the author’s (although this may simply be modesty on the part of the multitalented author Daniel Donnelly, as he also designed the cover). One of the best bits of this book is from Carson’s introduction: “Far more than simply ‘information architects’, the designers represented here realise that the Net is not print. It demands a different approach – one that takes into account not only the medium itself, but the subject matter, concept, and intended audience.”

So print doesn’t require the designer to take into account “the subject matter, concept, and intended audience”? Now that would explain what Carson’s been up to for all these years.

Web Design The Next Generation by Daniel Donnelly, with an introduction by David Carson, is published by Thames and Hudson, priced 29.95

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