Smashing Magazine is a great web design blog featuring fun and useful articles and tutorials for web designers.

When they announced they were releasing a book–The Smashing Book–I was eager to read it.

Disclaimer: This review is not a paid review. However, I did receive a copy of this book free from Smashing Magazine.

Who Is the Book Written For?

The Smashing Book ($29.90 / €23.90) was written specifically for web designers—both beginners and those that have been at it for a while.

What Topics Are Covered in the Book?

The 313 page book focuses on basic, but fundamental areas of web design, such as:

  • User Interface Design
  • CSS-Layouts
  • Typography
  • Usability Principles
  • Color Usage
  • Website Optimization
  • Increasing Conversion Rates
  • Site Branding

I was initially worried that the book would center on a specific topic or technology. Or that it would just be a rehash of previous posts from the Smashing Magazine site. I was relieved that the book focuses on these core basics.

I think that many web designers that are self-taught have not been educated on many of these main principles of web design, so I think the book does a good job of covering these basics.

What is Not Covered in the Book?

Since the book focuses on underlying principles of web design, there are some tech-specific things not covered.

First, you won’t find much mention of CSS3 (except @font-face) or HTML5 in The Smashing Book.

Secondly, CMS’s like WordPress, ExpressionEngine, Joomla, etc are only mentioned in the interviews. Even then, nothing very specific there.

Still, taking into account the focus of the book, this is not surprising.

Also, the book is not a long list of how to do this or that on your client’s website. Again, it stays focused on the fundamentals of design rather than get into every little thing you can do. You won’t find any 50 ways to super-charge your WordPress site sections in the book.

What Did I Like the Most About the Book?

So what did I like the most about the book?

Web Designer Interviews

The interviews, oddly enough.

I usually don’t read many interviews, and I usually find them a bit dull. However I really liked the format the book used for answering the questions.

A panel of 24 web pros took turns providing their answers and opinions. These included Dan Rubin, Jason Santa Maria, Paul Boag, Andy Budd, Elliot Jay Stocks, Veerle Peters and others.

I found it pretty insightful to learn their opinions on questions like:

  • What are your first steps when beginning a project for a client?
  • What universal principles of setting type do you follow in every project?
  • How do you know when a design is complete?

Typography

A close (very close) second would be the typography section.

The book deals not only with use of type and fonts on the web, but also explains typographic terms such as baselines, bowls, cap height, ligatures, majuscles, x-height, etc.

I think that every designer should be familiar with the principles of typography—both on and off the web—and this book is a good starting point.

Other Things I Liked About The Smashing Book

  1. Didn’t focus on technology-specific subjects: While it focused on some technology, it didn’t focus too much on specifics that will change quickly.
  2. Nice written style and easy to understand.
  3. Nice reference: Even if you know everything there is to know about 1 or more of the topics covered in the book, it’s still a nice reference.

What I Didn’t Like as Much About the Book

  1. Book size: While it is fine for reading, the small size–specifically the width of the book (5 ½ inches)—makes it impossible to leave the book open and follow along with the code.
  2. May be too general for experts: Since this book focuses on the basics of web design, if you’re already well-versed in all the areas discussed in the book, you may not learn that much. I found myself skipping a couple of the sections.
  3. Shipping and packaging: Many have complained about the shipping delivery speed. I think the packaging materials should have been more rugged. Mine came in the mail in a thin box with no padding. The bottom corner was smashed (ironically) and the book’s corner was damaged, though not ripped.
  4. Editing errors: There were a few spelling errors that my inner editor found distracting, but nothing unforgivable. (And yes, I know it’s lame to harp about spelling, but a couple of them could have been caught by a spell-checker.)

Consensus

What The Smashing Book covers are the fundamentals of web design–the underlying principles that every designer should know. In this, the book does a nice job without focusing too much on specific technologies that will change before long.

What it covers, it covers well.

I definitely recommend the book to any web designer as a good reference and the expert interviews are great for getting into the minds of the top designers.

For those with strong backgrounds in the topics covered in the book, you may not learn much more than you already know. As alternative, you could borrow a copy from a friend first.

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