Getting on the Same Page as Web Designers

Your neighbor has one, your kid has one, even your toothpaste has one. So now it's your turn to jump on the global bandwagon and put together a Web site to hawk your wares, display family photos or create a creepy treatise on Teri Hatcher. Or maybe you've got the basics down and are ready to expand a little, get your site to jump through some hoops.

Although it seems easy enough to have someone do it for you, that takes cash. Besides, your Web page, whether created for business or pleasure, needs a personal touch.

There are places on the World Wide Web you can go to learn the ins and outs of building a site, but a book is probably your best bet. You can read it anywhere and don't have to worry about modem connections. But it's easier to design a site than it is to find the right book to help you do it. A look at a few of the more prominent titles:


DESIGNING WEB GRAPHICS: How to Prepare Media and Images for the Web by Lynda Weinman (New Riders Publishing, $50; CD-ROM for Windows and Macintosh). This book is very well done. The chapters are easy to read and follow, with headlines, icons and tip boxes pointing out where you are and where you're going. Weinman devotes two full pages to what bare-bones Web pages look like in every imaginable browser (including some that are now defunct) on Windows PCs and the Macintosh.

"Designing Web Graphics" also has a chart to calculate hex values (numbers assigned to colors used in HTML, the coding language of the World Wide Web), and the CD-ROM comes with a hex calculator, helpful for exactly matching colors (of fonts and pictures) when building graphics and making backgrounds for your Web page.

The CD-ROM alone is worth the price of the book. There are copies of the GIFs, JPEGs, bookmarks and HTML coding for most of the pages and graphics mentioned in the book, all organized by chapter. There are also shareware programs--free or inexpensive software that can be downloaded from the Internet--and software demos. But dig a little deeper and you'll uncover the real value: 875 pictures that you might want to use for your site. Starfish, balloons, water, children's blocks, sunsets, beaches--the list goes on.

"Designing Web Graphics" discusses how to use such alien concepts as anti-aliasing, dithering, compression and bit sizes, as well making the most of typography, color, transparency, backgrounds, alignment, rules, bullets and tables. Most books address a few of these elements, but rarely all of them. Even fewer offer tips like the hex value of Web browser gray or give step-by-step instruction on how to make a seamless background.

Weinman also takes you through making graphics in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Painter, even ASCII. Though targeted at intermediate Web designers, this book belongs on the shelves of designers of all skill levels.


WEB CONCEPT AND DESIGN: A Comprehensive Guide for Creating Effective Web Sites by Crystal Waters, designed by Andrew Mundy (New Riders Publishing, $39.99). "If the viewer changes their default browser typeface, even a simple page like this one will look like . . . for lack of a better word, poo." Such are the admonitions from this entertaining read, which offers sound advice along with screen shots of some of the hottest graphics the Web has to offer.

"Web Concept and Design" stresses the fundamentals of good design--organization, planning, consistency, knowing your target audience and mood--and warns of the evils of over-design. (A chapter at the end is devoted to designers' pet peeves.)

"Web Concept and Design" is worth having if only for a few sound tips, some hip quotes (Elvis Presley introduces the chapter on page layout: "I don't know anything about music. In my line, you don't have to.") and an index of the best-looking Web sites in cyberspace.

HTML FOR DUMMIES by Ed Tittel and Steve James (IDG Books Worldwide, $29.99; floppy disk for Windows). CREATING WEB PAGES FOR DUMMIES by Bud Smith and Arthur Bebak (IDG Books Worldwide, $24.99; CD-ROM for Macintosh and Windows). These books are perhaps not the best of the wildly popular "Dummies" series, but they're nevertheless reliable choices for easy-to-follow instruction without a lot of bells and whistles.

Because it's written for HTML 2.0, "HTML for Dummies" is a little dated--HTML 3.0, the most current version, adds frames, banners and client pull (don't ask) to the mix--but it offers a good starting point, providing a basic understanding of HTML coding and preparation for the tricks the book doesn't teach.

Still, the use of color and backgrounds are conspicuously absent. The book's organization is also a little off--you don't actually hit HTML tags until Chapter 5.

"Creating Web Pages for Dummies" is a decent companion to "HTML." It tells how to get started with a Web page on the big three online services (America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe) and discusses the most popular HTML editors for Macintosh and Windows. There is also a lot of helpful information on where to get free Web space for personal and business pages.

"Creating Web Pages" offers solid advice on Web design. Keep it simple, plan ahead, don't overdo the graphics or use every HTML element you know, and, most important, "How funny is a joke the second time you hear it?"

The book also addresses such issues as privacy (think twice before putting too much information about your children on your Web page) and, with the growing globalization of the Internet, creating non-English sites. As with the "HTML" book, "Creating Web Pages" is a little dated--ignore the eWorld references.


HTML 3 INTERACTIVE COURSE by Kent Cearley (Waite Group Press, $39.99; CD-ROM for Windows). The title pretty much says it all. Reading "HTML 3" is just like being in school again. Specifically, like being in a physics class where you're sitting 40 rows back. In the corner. The teacher is speaking a foreign language. And the overhead projector's broken.

Even good technology books can fall into the trap of being too boring or too technical. But "HTML 3" manages to be totally devoid of information decipherable by anyone other than a programmer. It's badly organized and the information is not given in a way or at a time that can be useful.

Coding is described, but there are no screen shots of what the finished product will look like. Bold? Compact? Strong? Whatever.

It has everything you'd ever want to know under one roof: Too bad the door is locked and the windows are boarded up.


Krissy Harris can be reached via e-mail at

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