Unless you’ve been huddled in a corner for the last few years, you may have stumbled into a little website called Smashing Magazine. All sarcasm aside though, Smashing is one of the most popular and fastest growing websites in the design community. It has become a source of inspiration and education to thousands of designers and developers—beginners and professionals alike.
It only makes sense that a website producing such an incredible amount of great content would decide to compile and publish a book. My expectations in the beginning were mediocre at best; I wasn’t sure how a website producing content that almost required you to be at a computer (a lot of articles consisted of external links and examples) would create an equally content-rich book. When I got this particular book in the mail; I was surprised, excited and more importantly—proven absolutely wrong.
Binding, Paper & Print Quality
A beautiful book. Let’s me say this right out of the gate: This book is gorgeous. That was literally my first thought when I got mine. The front is very simple with the logo blown up past the edges of the cover. The thickness of the paper stock and the strength of the binding makes it feel very solid for a paperback book. The pages themselves are a very high-quality stock as well. There’s a slight satin finish giving them a slightly glossy feel, but definitely not too glossy. All of this, combined with the very vibrant print quality, makes The Smashing Book a fantastic looking book.
QUICK NOTE: If you got the first edition of this book you’ll notice that the binding and print margins were incredibly bad. I had to pull the book open to see the rest of the content buried in the margin of the book, causing the pages to start falling out. I assure you though, the new edition has fixed both of these issues and the book is holding up much better!
The Smashing Content
Super-rich and detailed. Enough about what it looks like, let’s get to the meat of this thing. If you’re anything like me, you immediately read/retweet almost every article that Smashing Magazine produces. Each one of them is rich with inspiration and content and the book does not disappoint in this respect. If I could pick one major aspect about the book that is different than the website, it’s that the website is very focused on inspiration while The Smashing Book focuses almost entirely on educating.
Design and usability. The first half of the book (about 170 pages) is all about design and usability. User interface design, CSS layouts, typography, usability principles and a huge guide about color usage. All of these chapters are rich and informative; I found myself highlighting some great snippets of information (something I haven’t done in years).
Optimization & branding. A lot of the second half of the book (about 60 pages) focuses on optimization, conversion rates and branding. This is an excellent guide if you’re looking to create something similar to a Smashing Magazine or other business-centric online brand. My only complaint with this section is that they don’t put too much emphasis on social media. Being that it’s growing at an incredible rate and such a huge part of most of our lives these days, it would be nice to have some kind of social networking guide when it comes to branding and optimization. That of course could be a whole book by itself.
Interviews and insights. Another large part of the book gets into interviews and insights, which was actually one of my favorite parts. I love hearing from fellow designers and developers; hearing their stories and learning from their accomplishments and mistakes. Almost thirty pages of questions and answers really helps this book become more real. Reading these intelligent responses from so many great people makes you feel like your part of something bigger, something more than just reading a great book.
The Smashing story. And then interestingly enough, the end of the book tells the story of the beginning. The Smashing Magazine story is incredibly entertaining; particularly because they didn’t even mean to create something as big as they did. I won’t spoil the good parts, but it’s definitely worth a read-through at least once.
If someone were to ask me today: “What book would you recommend to me if I wanted to improve my skills as a designer?”, I would absolutely recommend The Smashing Book. This isn’t necessarily a book for absolute beginners because it doesn’t teach you how to be a designer—which would be impossible. What it does do is gives you the knowledge, recommendations and examples you need to become a better one.
I’ve been designing and developing for over 15 years now and like I mentioned before; I was highlighting sections of the book that I found insightful and interesting. Some of the information I had never thought of or seen anywhere else. If you are a designer, beginner or advanced; I cannot recommend this book more. It deserves to be on every designer’s bookshelf.
You can purchase The Smashing Book for $29.90 from Smashing Magazine’s site: http://bit.ly/9p7JZD