Pretty much everyone in our field has heard of The Smashing Book from Smashing Magazine. Published in 2009 with 313 pages, The Smashing Book offers a collection of modern design, usability, coding and best practices in the web world.
The book had plenty of information to offer that I didn’t know about and, although I didn’t agree with all of it, it was well worth the price. I’d like to share my review of the contents and book itself and give you, loyal readers, a chance to win one of five copies for yourself!
Opening my mailbox on that fateful day, I could tell immediately that the book had arrived. The Smashing Book was wrapped in a cardboard box container that matched the front of the book exactly. Pretty cool!
I was slightly disappointed in it both size and print-wise. However, this disappointment wasn’t unexpected, due to several reviews I read before I purchased the book.
In a nutshell, the text is a bit small and printed in sans-serif, which is a difficult font to read in print, especially at the size they used. The binding wasn’t great and it feels like it could fall apart with more than one reading. I also felt that $30 was too expensive for a paperback book, especially one that made these crucial readability mistakes.
The thick glossy pages did not bother me at all, like it has some readers, and it made the design and color portions of the book stand out. There were, however, several typos I noticed, mostly in the captions. One caption even completely misnamed a site’s country. (The “Chinese” site wasn’t Chinese, it was Korean.) However, let’s not judge this book too harshly by its cover…or pages.
Individual Chapter Reviews
The chapters were short enough to read easily in one setting, but long enough to convey the message of each topic. I had expected Smashing to talk about best practices in code, but they only touched upon that topic lightly. Many of the chapters were more about theory and usability rather than actual tutorials.
Most of the chapters though, had great bits of information, and since they’re all by different authors and on different topics, I’d like to rate them separately.
- Chapter 1: User Interface Design in Modern Applications.
The author talks mostly about web and software applications, but a lot of what he mentions can also apply to regular websites. I learned several useful tips for my own sites. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
- Chapter 2: The Art and Science of CSS Layouts.
Seeing that CSS is my expertise, I thought this was going to be my favorite chapter, but unfortunately this chapter was way out in left field. None of it really applied to me or my clients in any sense. Most of it was about fluid (expanding) and arbitrary layouts. Unfortunately, in the real world, I don’t see a client going for this. Every designer and client I’ve ever worked with wants pixel-perfect layouts. And there was a lot of weird math involved, along with guessing and the use of em, which I also, personally, never use. I give it 2 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 3: Typography Rules, Guidelines and Common Mistakes.
I’m a huge fan of typography, so this chapter was great for me. While I’d learned most of what was discussed in design school, I felt it was spot on and a great refresher for a designer, or a wonderful teaching aid to someone just starting out. I give it 4 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 4: Usability Principles for Modern Websites.
I learned a lot about usability practices in this chapter. The most interesting of all was the fact we shouldn’t force pop-up windows, even if it’s going to an external site, but instead should let the user decide. Very interesting stuff for both developers and designers. I give it 4 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 5: The Ultimate Guide To Fantastic Color Usage.
Just like the typography chapter, the color chapter is great for beginners, or for just brushing up on color. I give it 4 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 6: Optimization For Websites.
Another chapter with a promising headline on the development side of things. This author offered common basic tips and then he suddenly jumped into very advanced optimization tips. Unfortunately, this chapter is almost useless for 99% of users, who don’t have root access to their server or even a dedicated server itself. I ended up having to skip most of it. I give it 2 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 7: Design to Sell — Increasing Conversion Rates.
I love the fact that this chapter talks, not only about how to sell more products, but also how to sell services, get RSS feed subscribers or email signups. It’s got great tips for using your website to pull those customers in. I give it 4 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 8: How to turn a Site into a Remarkable Brand.
This chapter really didn’t talk about anything most of us didn’t already know…it offers basic tips on how to brand yourself and your site. Nothing too remarkable, unfortunately. I give it 3 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 9: Learning for Experts — Interviews and Insights.
Now this is the chapter that makes the whole book! As a matter of fact, I would’ve loved it if this chapter was the whole book. There were lots of one on one questions with big name guys that I know of in the web world. All the questions were about freelancing, design, development tactics, dealing with clients and so on. I normally hate interviews, but read this in its entirety. Super great tips and it’s awesome to see how the pros work. I give it 5 out of 5 stars
- Chapter 10: Behind the Curtains: The Smashing Magazine Story.
Just a nice chapter on how Smashing Magazine came to be. I loved the photos of all the collages of previous logos, post images and icons. I give it 4 out of 5 stars
The Design Samples
Throughout the book, Smashing uses real websites for their examples and explanations. A lot of these were pretty good, although I wish they could’ve found better examples, as some of the sites were a bit bland and outdated (the color chapter being the exception, the examples were great!).
I don’t normally read computer books, but I’m really glad I got this one. Even though it has several negatives to it, it’s still full of very useful information, even for seasoned professionals. Well worth the money and I suggest going out and getting it! I give the whole book 4 out of 5 stars!
Now’s Your Chance… Win A Copy of Your Own!
Want to win a copy for yourself? We’re making it easy — FreelanceFolder is giving away 5 copies of The Smashing Book to our readers! Just follow the two steps below to enter.
Step 1: RT this post on twitter, you can use the button just after the post.
Step 2: Leave a comment below about why you want to win this book.
Yes, that’s really it! The contest starts now and ends this Friday, January 29, 2010. The winner will be chosen at random. International readers are free to enter, but additional shipping charges may apply depending on where you are located. Good luck!
Oh, and if you don’t win one of the 5 free giveaway books, you can always get the book from Smashing Magazine here.