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Review: The Smashing Book 2 (Plus a Free Excerpt!)

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The Smashing Book 2 is here, from our friends over at Smashing Magazine. The good news is that it's a huge improvement over the first version. The bad news is that you'll have to buy your own copy 'cuz I ain't giving mine away! Ready for a review? Dig in good friends...


A New Page Has Turned...

So I'll start this review with some harsh honesty: I really didn't care for the first Smashing Book. The content may have rocked - but from the basic construction of the book to the poorly set typography, the first book just felt like it was a bit off the mark from what the writing team was aiming for. I applauded their efforts at creating a neat little book, but Smashing's extraordinary efforts on the web just didn't translate to a printed book very well.

As a designer with a strong print background, I've always been a huge fan of the book arts (yes, it's an artform!) - so finding a book on web design that fell short of the greatness that the content warranted was a bit of a let down. There really aren't a ton of awesome books on web design out there, and the sheer physical difficulty of reading the first book doomed it to becoming just another in a long list of books that I keep on my shelf so that I look smart when people visit my office.

Hallelujah! The second Smashing Book easily wipes away the sins of the first. There, I said it! From the luscious hardcover binding to the professional quality type setting, this second Smashing Book is going to be one that you'll actually want to keep off of your book shelf and in your grubby little web designer hands. Oh, and it's actually chalk full of well written lessons on design... so you can thank your lucky stars because you've finally got a book to take with you on vacation for when your friends confiscate your laptop and make you sit by the pool.

The Construction

Normally I wouldn't bother with a section on construction for a book on web design. Why? For one reason, most books on web design are pretty ordinary. Simple typography, paperback glue binding, pseudo-glossy paper, and a couple images to break up the monotony of the text. What warrants this section is two things:

  1. The Smashing Book 1 was poorly constructed. Anyone who bought the book probably wants some reassurance that this second one is the good stuff.
  2. The Smashing Book 2 nails it. Where so many other web design books are just a publisher's excuse to cut down trees, the SB2 is a one sweet slab of book.

The book actually rests well in your hands. Solid hard cover construction using stitch binding with a nice weight to it. Heck, it even comes with a "handsome" bookmark. What really got me excited was when I opened the first couple pages and the book actually stayed open without me prying at it like a 6 year old trying to get to the bottom of the Lucky Charms box.

The Layout

It's amazing what a few small tweaks to a book design can change. While the Smashing Book 1 was difficult to read because of it's type layout edging into the gutter, the Smashing Book 2 is a breath of fresh air. The size of the page is a bit larger, the margins are properly set now (no more grabbing a crowbar to read the text inside the crease), and the typeface used (a humble serif font with sans-serif titles) just feels more dignified.... now all you'll need is a leather book cover to hide the awesome garish orange cover and you can read this while simultaneously asking for fancy mustard.

My only real criticism on the typesetting is that the typeface for the image notations is awfully similar to the body text... but that's more of a personal preference than a deal breaker. By all accounts, the construction and layout of this second book don't hinder the content, they elevate it.


The Content:

Enough about the construction though. What you guys care about is whether or not this book is worth your hard earned cash... and unless you're accustomed to spending $30 on a paper weight, you'll need the actual content of the book to convince you to loosen your purse strings.

The content covered isn't limited to just web design, although web designers will get a lot of solid lessons out of this book. The topics covered include:

  • Principles of Graphic Design
  • Visible vs. Invisible Design
  • Building Mobile Experiences
  • Sketching and Wireframing
  • Web Typography
  • Integrating Game Design into User Experience on the Web
  • How to Make Your Own Book (just in case you feel like you can do it better)

The content doesn't dig deep into the coding and development side of the industry, but what it does cover, it does so thoroughly and with plenty of visual examples and illustrations. The chapter illustrations in the book are provided by Yiyung Lu, who designed the (in)famous Twitter fail whale. Here are just a couple samples:

A book about reinforcing good design principles certainly isn't revolutionary, but having a book that does so while addressing web designers as an audience is something that doesn't come along nearly often enough. What's better is that these are all topics that any designer can't possibly get enough of. Design (with a capital D) as a topic of study is one of those things that the more you read and saturate your mind in, the better you'll be able to see and design the world around you. Like we've been preaching here on this site, Design Theory is the foundation of good web design... and this book has got the chops.


The Bottom Line:

I can recommend this book to fans of this site as well as Smashing Magazine. The content covered is actually pretty darn similar to a lot of the stuff we've been covering over here at Webdesigntuts+, but the beauty of the lessons in this book is that they are timeless. Whether you read them here, there, in a book, on a train, or with green eggs and ham, you'll be able to apply these lessons over and over again.

Buy your own copy though, because while the first Smashing Book is now planted handsomely on my bookshelf, this second one is going to get another read through before I let it out of my sight.

If you already have the book and love it, you'll also want to read the Lost Files, which are extra chapters that were left out of the printed book.

The Free Excerpt: Grab the free excerpt of Chapter #2, Visible vs. Invisible Design here!

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