Book Review: The Smashing Book

Book Review: The Smashing Book

I’m a fan of Smashing Magazine, and when they announced the pre-order for their new book I looked over their preview information and decided to order it. Just finished the book so here is a review.

Smashing Magazine sums up their book better than I can:

The Smashing Book is a printed book about best practices in modern Web design. The book shares technical tips and best practices on coding, usability and optimization and explores how to create successful user interfaces and apply marketing principles to increase conversion rates. It also shows how to get the most out of typography, color and branding so that you end up with intuitive and effective Web designs. And lastly, you will also get a peek behind the curtains of Smashing Magazine.

Shipping Catastrophe?

I pre-ordered the Smashing Book on August 5, and I received it on December 22. Yea it took that long. I received two emails from Smashing Magazine with updates. One at the end of September talking about production problems, and another near the end of November talking about shipping problems. Since the book was shipping from overseas, and I opted for ground shipping, that took awhile as well. I know a lot of people are pissed that it took so long to get the book, and I think some people still haven't received it yet. My advice is to chill out, you will survive! Vitaly Friedman and Sven Lennartz, the founders of Smashing Magazine, have done a good job on their first book. It can't be easy creating something like this for the first time and then coordinating shipping to not just one country, but worldwide. I forgave the delays and you should too!

Judging the Book by its Cover

First I want to mention the shipping box that the book comes in. When I saw the office mail monkey walking towards me I saw the big orange and white “S” and I knew it was the book. I immediately thought, “This jankity book was shipped in clear plastic wrap?” But when it was handed to me I realized the shipping box was printed to look just like the box. Definitely cool. The book looks and feels like good quality. The printing inside is also top notch. I have heard some rumblings about the tight binding and how it's hard to keep the book open. Unfortunately this is true. I ran through the book in two sittings, but I wonder if it gets better with repeated openings…or maybe it falls apart? Any thoughts on this from other purchasers of the book? I do like the way the book looks and it will look cool sitting on my desk.

The Smashing Book with its shipping box

The Content

The chapters were written by various big names in the design community. Chris Spooner, David Leggett, and Kayla Knight just to name a random few. I think they did a good job of providing well written articles on some great topics.

The chapters are:

  • User Interface Design in Modern Web Applications
  • The Art and Science of CSS-Layouts
  • Typography: Rules, Guidelines and Common Mistakes
  • Usability Principles for Modern Websites
  • The Ultimate Guide to Fantastic Color Usage
  • Optimization for Websites
  • Design to Sell - Increasing Conversion Rates
  • How to turn a Site into a Remarkable Brand
  • Learning from Experts - Interviews and Insights
  • Behind the Curtains: The Smashing Magazine Story

As a whole I think the book is great. It has a lot of good information. Most of the information can be found on the web, but it is nice to be able to have one place to reference the information. I think it is definitely worth the price at around $30. I thought all chapters were informative. I have a few random notes, good and bad things that struck me that I would like to mention.

I'll start with the bad. I found two typos instantly on the Table of Contents page. There really is no excuse for errors like this. I also noticed that the Preface refers to the “…list of contributors to the left…”, but the author list is in the back of the book. There might have been a last minute change, but for a professional book this should have been caught before print. I also think the Table of Contents could have been a little more detailed, showing the page numbers of sub sections to make looking up something a little quicker.

I think the web typography chapter is fantastic and a great resource. I thought of a couple small things that would have made it a little better. On page 105 it talks about letter spacing and word spacing. Why not throw in the CSS code in a footnote or something to accomplish this? It might help beginners. I also think this chapter could have benefitted from more screenshots of sites with good typography.

Now some good thoughts! Like I said above, the typography chapter is a great resource. I learned a lot myself. Sometimes I get a little lazy with certain things, like ellipsis. I usually use three periods instead of the correct entity code. The chapter has inspired me to put more effort into doing things correctly. I also thought the color usage chapter was great. I really like how the different color schemes are shown with screenshots of websites that use them.

The Smashing Book spread

Everyone should read the site optimization chapter. I knew a lot of things already, but I learned a bunch of new things. The chapter starts off getting right into it without any BS. The chapter mentions some plugins, such as YSlow that help with diagnosing problem areas in your site that could be causing it to perform slowly. I put the Smashing Book down to try out YSlow on this site. I got a good rating! There were a couple things I got a “F” rating on. One was “expires headers”. I had no idea what this was and made a note to look it up later on Google. I picked up the Smashing Book and a couple pages later BAM!, there was a section explaining expires headers. I thought that was awesome. I aslo downloaded Page Speed plugin from Google and that seems like it will be invaluable for testing sites.

The Smashing Book: Behind the Curtains chapter

The last two chapters are really good. “Learning From Experts” has a question and answer format asking some of the top designers in the community different questions. It's great getting an insight into their thoughts and how they do things. The last chapter tells how Smashing Magazine came to be. Personally I love these stories as it shows how normal people can start up and make something great from almost nothing. They really go into detail talking about the hurdles they went through as the site grew so fast.

To summarize I think the book is a great buy for the price. For all you people still waiting for it to be delivered, its worth it!

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Gravatar for Zac 1 Zac January 08, 2010

I just got my book today and definitely dug the cover and hear you on the tight binding.  I’m almost afraid to fold the pages really open, but it’s a tight book regardless.

Cheers for the review!

Gravatar for Andy Marshall 2 Andy Marshall January 08, 2010

ordered mine ysterday - looking forward to it smile

Gravatar for Neil 3 Neil January 08, 2010

Nice review - i nearly pre-ordered it until i saw it was not even in production yet! but this is a nice nudge reminder for me to check again.
Like the site design too. congrats.

Gravatar for Mike Lohrman 4 Mike Lohrman January 08, 2010

Thanks for the comments guys! I found another problem with the book, I need two if them! I keep bringing it back and forth to work and home because I never know when I might need some info out of it.

Gravatar for Design Informer 5 Design Informer January 08, 2010

Nice book review. I just shared it with Vitaly and he didn’t know about it. Keep up the great work with your blog.

Gravatar for Mike Lohrman 6 Mike Lohrman January 09, 2010

@Design Informer: Thanks for linking him to the review. I’ve been subscribed to your rss feed for a while, so keep up the great work as well!

Gravatar for jeprie 7 jeprie January 12, 2010

i’ll definitely buy it. nice review.

Gravatar for Bleyder 8 Bleyder January 13, 2010

Maybe the book is too small for me. And, as Zac said, “I’m almost afraid to fold the pages really open”.

Gravatar for dhaval shah 9 dhaval shah January 19, 2010

every designer should have this book!!
Awesome book!!!

Gravatar for Eduardo 10 Eduardo January 19, 2010

ohh…thats nice…
I will definitely buy it….
nice blog!

Gravatar for Abhilash M 11 Abhilash M January 19, 2010

hey mike, nice review.
I got my book by the end of December and when i got the book in my hands, i too had the feeling that the book was just plastic wrapped. lol…
I like the book very much although i haven’t finished it yet. So far, i have finished the first three chapters and it rocks. I do feel that It would have been better if the font size was a bit bigger. It may be difficult for some people to read.
Kudos to all the people who hd worked sleepless nights to bring the book to existence.

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