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FEB 2010 0

The Smashing Book is indeed… Smashing!

Image of Smashing Book's inline page

For most of you who already got the book it wasn't probably a painful process. Unfortunately, there are always a couple of exceptions to the rule, and I was "lucky" enough to be stuck with one. I pre-ordered the book way back in the late summer of 2009, because I wanted to get my hands on the book as soon as it was out. That turned against me, as the book that was sent over got lost in traffic. It was shipped on the 2nd of December last year, and it was late January 2010 and nothing smashing got stuck into my mailbox.

I didn't know what to do, and I sent over an email to Smashing Magazine's team. It was just a short brief line telling them it's almost two months since dispatch day and I still have nothing, together with my mailing address. I got a reply in less than 24 hours that said something like: "We're sorry, the book was lost in transit. But here's a tracking code of a new airmail shipping". Four days later, a couple of weeks ago, I got the book. Found the time to digest it, and here's the results.


I think those great guys and girls at Smashing Magazine are Mac fans, because the book was awesomely wrapped. Getting it out of the package after such a long waiting time almost felt like getting my first Apple product out of its box. The quality of the paper is awesome, unlike many other books I got my hands on, which usually were more expensive too.

User interface design in modern web applications - Dmitry Fadeyev

The first chapter of the book is about user interface design, and was written by Dmitry Fadeyev who publishes the Usability Post. I've been reading his blog ever since he started it because it is packed with a lot of valuable information. On such grounds I didn't expect this chapter to be any less valuable. Unfortunately for me, reading Dmitry's chapter felt like reminding myself things I already knew. I am an avid reader and researcher on anything that deals with user interfaces and experience, and everything that Dmitry wrote in his chapter felt so familiar.

However, for someone who's new to this portion of the web, this chapter will make you pop a lot of questions. Questions on whether your websites and web apps have high standards or not. Questions whether your users feel great using your solutions or not. This chapter contains information about the little things that make everything feel so much better.

The art and science of CSS-Layouts - Kayla Knight and Jacob Gube

The second chapter of the book starts without intensity, but as you keep reading things get more complicated. Fixed, fluid, hybrid, adaptive or elastic layouts are all in there, and if you're still using only fixed-width layouts this chapter will make you think twice before going with them in the future.

Web typography: Rules, guidelines and common mistakes - Alessandro Cattaneo, Yves Peters and Jon Tan

I never thought that design, and typography ( to be more precise ), has to deal with math and mathematical formulas. This chapter will make a shift in your thinking with regard to typography and layouts — only if you're not some typography guru and this chapter will make you fall asleep.

Packed with a lot of unknown, unheard terms, this long chapter unfolds itself gradually, and the authors behind it did a great job explaining beforehand what they were going to talk about. I think this chapter is the best place to start your regular reading on typography.

After you're done with the Smashing Book's typography chapter, I really recommend this article published by Smashing Magazine on mathematics applied to designs. It contains a wonderful follow up story of the aforementioned chapter.

Usability principles for modern websites - Andrew Mayer and David Leggett

This chapter starts with a lot of information and guidelines that simply put is common sense. Or at least it seems so for me. If you don't know this stuff by now, I hope you didn't put a lot of websites up in the cloud by now. But as you approach the end of the chapter, there's some nice insights on different studies, possibly unheard principles and rules. Unfortunately, I'd have to say that this chapter somehow contrasts the quality of the first three chapters of the book.

The ultimate guide to fantastic color usage in web design, usability and experience - Darius A Monsef IV

This chapter was by far the easiest to read since I started the book. It does contain a lot of technical information, but the amount of perfect examples picked by Darius to emphasize what he's trying to point out is overwhelming. It starts with some basic information, advances to a few quality examples and by the time you finish the chapter you feel like you need to go to an art gallery as soon as possible.

If I were you, I'd leave this chapter alone and read it as if it were the last one in the book. After all, the Smashing Book contains 10 different stories, not connected to each other, so you can read them in any order you'd like.

After completing the book, I must say that the chapters do have some kind of flow, and maybe it's best if you read them in the order they are presented.

Performance optimization for websites - Rene Schmidt

I can't believe I am actually saying this, but as chapters go by, each one seems better than the ones that came before it. Rene Schmidt did a great job in the chapter he wrote. It is packed with server-side and client-side optimization techniques that you really need to know. If the chapter were a bit more complex, you could have switched from a dedicated managed server to an unmanaged one.

Design to sell; Increasing conversion rates - Dmitry Fadeyev

After reading the first chapter Dmitry wrote in the Smashing Book I was little disappointed, merely because I didn't learn new tricks. However, this second chapter of his was a bit more advanced, if that's the right word for it.

I liked the sell "solutions and benefits" concept instead of "services and features", and it was great to find out more about this technique.

How to turn a site into a remarkable brand - Chris Spooner

By the time you reach this chapter, you finally realize that all these stories told by each chapter of the book were carefully chosen. The book starts with basic website building techniques and covers the entire process in detail. Therefor, this chapter on branding is interesting because it points out a few things that can turn a website into a huge success. This chapter alone would have been a great way to end the book.

Learning from experts; interviews and insights - Steven Snell

I'm sure all of you, who would consider buying any web development book, read from time to time interviews with experts in the field. The Smashing Book also contains a chapter dedicated to chatting with some important figures in the web development industry. However, these interviews seem a bit different. Most online published interviews don't really pack useful information, detailed techniques, but instead have a more personal touch. The interviews published in the book seem more technical than what I was used to reading online. There are no "how's your typical day like?" questions. There's more questions like "what are the first steps when beginning a client project?"

Behind the curtains: The Smashing Magazine story

After the insights shared by great designers and developers in the previous chapter, getting to know what Smashing Magazine really is and how it evolved since it was launched was great. It is always inspiring to see how two people can turn something simple, basic and unknown into a fabulous success such as the Smashing Magazine.

Top chapters

  • 1. Performance optimization for websites - Rene Schmidt
  • 2. The ultimate guide to fantastic color usage in web design, usability and experience - Darius A Monsef IV
  • 3. Web typography: Rules, guidelines and common mistakes - Alessandro Cattaneo, Yves Peters and Jon Tan

Final words

The Smashing Book is shinny and nice. Sometimes though it is too shinny such that text in inline pages is glowing making reading it really hard unless you change your light bulbs or light angle.

It's clear that the book is a result of a community, not one or two authors. Because of that, the quality of it's chapters range from chapter to chapter. On the other hand this makes the book more enjoyable as its style changes often. Bored of one author's way of laying out information? Don't worry, the next one will be totally different.

To conclude, the Smashing Book is indeed... Smashing!

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Further reading

Published on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 at 10:00 am in reviews.

About Bogdan Pop

Bogdan Pop is a young Romanian entrepreneur who runs WebRaptor. He is a web developer with awesome design skills, who enjoys writing about everyday's work and usability. He relaxes by taking photos every once in a while and by mixing french electronic music. Connect with him via Twitter.

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