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Creating Web Graphics for Dummies.

Creating Web Graphics for Dummies

Bud Smith and Peter Frazier. 2003. New York, NY: Wiley Publishing, Inc. [ISBN 0-7645-2595-6. 312 pages, including index and CD. $24.99 USD (softcover).]

"The Web is a great new delivery platform that will end up raising the practice of graphics and design to previously unheard-of levels of importance" (p. 47).


Creating Web graphics for dummies provides the novice Web designer with a view into the world of working with graphics through its advice on how to get started working with graphics, how to use the cool graphical software tools that exist, how to add photos to Web sites, and how to create and use animated graphics on Web sites. With the explosion of the Internet, a new genre of communication opened where we have seen an "almost-anything-goes" attitude arise with the many different types of Web sites that we encounter. These sites still need the written word to attract or convince the intended audience to stay on the site, but they are further enhanced through the support of graphics that help to ensure that everyone understands and comprehends the message being relayed.

In the introduction, Smith and Frazier explain that they wrote this book for the "amateur and semiprofessional Web site creators who also create their own graphics or would like to. It's also written for the pro who wants a handy source of explanations" (p. 1). This book helped me gain a better understanding of the graphical formats to use on Web sites and also gave me useful tips on when not to use one format over another (for example, JPEG and GIF).

Smith and Frazier provide step-by-step processes for creating usable graphics with Microsoft Paint, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, and Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. The book contains many useful URLs for acquiring or purchasing shareware software that will help enhance the appeal of a Web site. These step-by-step processes and URLs make this book one worth purchasing for your personal or work library.

Let's take a look at some of the useful tips that Creating Web graphics for dummies offers. The first tip is on conventional file names. Web site creators use one of four computer systems for transferring and storing Web files: PCs running Windows, UNIX systems, Macintosh computers, and PCs running DOS, exactly in this order. If you do not host your own Web site, attention to file names is important. Smith and Frazier recommend that you keep the "filename to 30 characters or less; use three-letter, not four-letter, extensions; never use spaces; avoid special characters; and never use capital letters" (p. 14).

The next useful tip this book offers is determining the download time required for your Web site. You might ask why this is important. The importance is for those who do not have DSL, ISDN, or cable/satellite modem access. Many users are still accessing the Internet through dial-up modems at various baud rates. Smith and Frazier recommend that you add up the file sizes (in kilobytes) for all the graphics that appear on one Web page and divide this number by 3. The resulting number is how many seconds it will take for a typical modem user to receive the entire Web page. The Cheat Sheet at the front of this book provides a chart on page wait downloads of the basic wait times for modem and DSL users. The page wait downloads are based on file size ranges of 2 kilobytes (text only) to 50 kilobytes.

Copyright laws exist for Web pages just as they do for any other form of written communication. Creating Web graphics for dummies does a great job of encouraging Web authors to make sure that they acquire the proper permissions from the artist or company before placing graphics on their Web sites. Just seeing a great graphic on someone else's Web site does not give you permission to save it and use it for your own purposes. Protect yourself and your company by asking for permission first before displaying a graphic that is not an original of your own on your Web site.

Smith and Frazier venture into Web site usability in their discussion of background images on Web sites. Have you ever visited a Web site that has an overpowering background image where the text has been difficult to read? Smith and Frazier recommend using a very lightly colored graphical image that does not interfere with the readability of the text being displayed. Any image you use repetitively in your background design should appear seamless and not overpowering to the viewer.

Chapter 3 provides a look into the design, printing, and distribution process that occurs between the typical print environment and the Web environment. The figure on page 49 shows that the printing aspects of producing output film, color proofs, and printing plates are not an issue when creating pages for the Web. Web developers go straight from creating pages on their computer to publishing these pages out to their Web sites. This chapter alone is well worth the time to read in its entirety.

Neophyte Web authors should pay particular attention to the directions on the use of the Web-safe color palette. We are spoiled with all the color options that we see on our computers. We might think that what we design on our own computers will translate well into the printed format or on a Web site. This is not true, of course, because each computer displays colors differently based on the type of monitor, the internal processor, and other equipment-related parts. Smith and Frazier spend time talking about the differences between the 256-color palette and the 216-color palette (the recommended Web-safe palette). You can find a version of the 216-color palette on the book's CD.

Let's move on to using photos on your Web site. Digital cameras make it much easier for displaying pictures on your Web site. Creating Web graphics for dummies says that after taking photos with your digital camera, you have to "consider the cost and hassle of getting a signed model release from anyone recognizable in your photo" (p. 149). Everyone should read the "Looking out for your rights" discussion on page 251. Other aspects you need to consider when working with photos include (1) getting the rights of the photographer and any people appearing in the photo if you are using a scanned photo, and (2) understanding the rights that accompany online stock photo libraries or photo sites. Some photos on these types of sites have different permissions depending on how you plan to use the photos. Always ensure you are protected from legal entanglements relating to your Web site and the graphics that appear on it.

Adding animation to Web sites helps keep viewers' interest as well as ensures return visits. Macromedia Flash is one of the animation graphics applications that Web designers use when creating fancy Web sites. However, Smith and Frazier caution against overusing Flash because it requires a separate player that many users may not have if they are not using the latest Web browser, such as Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher. The use of Flash may irritate these users if they have to download yet another plug-in applet. They may instead move on to the next Web site that doesn't require downloading of any additional applets.

Web designers should always design for their audience based on effective audience analysis techniques. In this way, designers will know if their users want a more "action- and entertainment-oriented" Web site instead of looking at "static Web pages [that] are just not very interesting to them" (p. 238). Keeping this in mind, Creating Web graphics for dummies does a fair job in its discussion of using and creating animated graphics. Smith and Frazier reference other Dummies books where you can get more indepth knowledge on working with Web site animation.

Creating Web graphics for dummies touches briefly on the role of the information designer and interaction designer. As technical communicators, we can serve in these roles with our attention to usability and readability. The information designer pays attention to the chunking of the textual content, while the interaction designer looks at both the textual content and the Web site navigation from a graphical perspective.

All the Dummies books include a "ten things you should know" chapter. In Creating Web graphics for dummies, one of the most interesting tips that Smith and Frazier include in Chapter 17 ("Ten graphics tips for business Web sites") is to finish the home page last. They say that this is the "trickiest page to design and to do graphics for. Size up your needs for the home page at the beginning, but complete the inside pages first. Then the home page and navigation will be a snap" (p. 274). We do this as writers when writing reports: we write the main text, then circle back and write the executive summary, abstract, introduction, and conclusion, don't we?

The only major disadvantage that I find with Creating Web graphics for dummies is the lack of color. The use of color for many of the figures would help clarify the points that Smith and Frazier ask you to focus on. Even if this increased the cost of the book, it would be worth it to gain a better understanding on the use of Web site colors, for example.

Creating Web graphics for dummies provides a good overview for novice Web designers to begin acquiring the knowledge needed to build great Web sites. Web designers who have more experience in this area may find this book too simple, but I feel that there is always one nugget of information in the most primary of sources. The one I found in this book is the quotation that started this review.

JACKIE DAMRAU has over 20 years of technical writing experience and 6 years in creating training materials and delivering soft-skills training courses. She is a senior technical writer on the digital solutions team at Perot Systems. She is a senior member and first vice president of the STC Lone Star chapter.
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Title Annotation:Book Reviews
Author:Damrau, Jackie
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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