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Budget Web sites can still do the job.

Web Design on a Shoestring by Carrie Bickner Boston: New Riders Publishing, 2004 ISBN: 0-7357-1328-6 215 pages $24.99

When I first created Web pages (in the dark ages of the mid-1990s), there were no Web-authoring tools, templates, or style sheets. Making a fill-in form was a major programming accomplishment. Now there are so many options that you can spend a fortune on Web site development.

Unfortunately, most of us don't have lavish budgets. If you're in a business setting, your Web-development budget has likely been reduced recently. If you're at a nonprofit, you probably never had a big budget to begin with. Our users' Web skills are more sophisticated, and their expectations have risen as well. But don't panic. According to Carrie Bickner's book Web Design on a Shoestring, it's still possible to make an appealing and usable Web site without breaking the bank.

Bickner is currently assistant director for digital information and system design at The New York Public Library, where she coordinates Web development and works on individual NYPL projects. She also has freelance experience with developing Web sites for small-business clients. You can see her personal site, The Rogue Librarian, at http://www.roguelibrarian.com. In addition, Bickner offers information about Web Design on a Shoestring, including reviews and excerpts, at http://www.rogue librarian.com/shoestring/index.html.

In the book's introduction, Bickner talks about her years of experience working as a shoestring Web developer. In 1999, she hoped to get a big monetary infusion for her projects, but the city's budget collapsed. She then developed a lean approach to Web development, promoting efficiency and creating some great products. In the process, she realized that she didn't necessarily need lots of money and a big staff. Since many of us are in the same boat, she wrote Web Design on a Shoestring to share her ideas.

The eight chapters focus on different aspects of successful Web design and development. Part I covers production techniques. The first chapter, "Secrets to a Successful Shoestring Project," gets the reader into the right frame of mind. While going through this chapter, I could see immediate applications for my own library's Web site. Some key points: Have a clear focus, and dare to do less. If you're on a budget, pick a limited number of things to do on your Web site, and do them well.

Bickner continues her discussion of focus in Chapter 2, where she talks about the importance of creating a project plan and sticking to it. The plan should include both functional and technical requirements. I especially appreciated the chapter on good design. This is an area that many part-time Web developers need help with. Bickner gives basic yet essential tips about typefaces and colors. If you want to use clip art or photographs, be careful what you choose, and follow her suggestions on visual harmony and image quality.

Part II describes some of the many tools that can be used for Web development. First, you may want to consider a content management system. There are a wide variety of these packages available, ranging in price from free (open source) to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bickner uses a sample project to present functional requirements for a CMS and to evaluate a number of the current products.

Bickner strongly emphasizes the use of W3C Web standards. These will save you time and money on development and redesign. Cascading style sheets are also a key timesaver. They allow you to separate a site's design elements from the content and to control the appearance from a central location. Changes only need to be made once rather than for each page. Bickner shows examples of HTML code and Web page appearance to demonstrate the power of CSS. Finally, she gives an overview of Web hosting services.

Web Design on a Shoestring is relatively short (215 pages) and easy to read. It's not an HTML writing guide, though it does assume the reader has at least some experience with building and publishing Web sites. Each chapter starts with a single-page summary of the main points. The book offers many examples of Web sites, both good and bad, and numerous tables that provide handy references. The book's design is simple yet visually appealing, reflecting the principles Bickner advocates.

I really enjoyed Bickner's writing style and immediately wanted to share the book with my colleagues. Her vision of Web development is inspiring for the average information professional: "If you keep at it, you will grow creatively and professionally in ways you never imagined." Web Design on a Shoestring is a great resource, whether you're new to Web development or have been at it for a while and want a quick summary of the latest trends.

Gwen M. Gregory is head of bibliographic services at Colorado College's Tutt Library. Her e-mail address is ggregory@coloradocollege.edu.
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Title Annotation:Cover Notes
Author:Gregory, Gwen M.
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:813
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