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Web Design on a Shoestring.

Web Design on a Shoestring


Carrie Bickner. 2004. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders Publishing. [ISBN 0-7357-1328-6. 215 pages, including index. $24.99 USD (softcover).]

The subtitle of Carrie Bickner's Web design on a shoestring could have been "Dare to do less, but do it well." Web design on a shoestring offers an engaging, informative look at how to create an attractive and effective Web site with limited personnel, time, and money. Her shoestring design principles can be applied to "every aspect of web production: project management, usability, design, copywriting, hosting, and post-launch maintenance" (p. xiv).

The book's organization is modular, so each chapter can be read on its own. But I highly recommend reading the Introduction first. It presents the rationale and concepts behind the book, provides an overview of the book's organizational structure, and introduces you to the conversational style that makes Bickner such a pleasure to read:
    It is my hope that you will write in this book, dog-ear a few pages,
    and splash coffee on the cover. Treat it with little reverence. Let
    it become an old friend that you can lean on from time to time.
    Ignore the stuff you don't need, and enjoy the parts that help.
    (p. xix)

In the Introduction we also meet her imagined audience:

* John, a non-designer who is expected to update a Web site in the 17 hours a week he acts as Webmaster for the library where he is children's librarian

* Clint, owner of a one-person Web design shop, who wants to be sure that the skimpy budgets of his clients aren't wasted on the wrong things

* Janet, who was once lead designer on a large Web team but who now is expected to take on her former team members' responsibilities, supported by only an hourly assistant with no real Web experience

* Steve, a small-business owner who has volunteered to create, host, and maintain the Web site for his daughter's baseball league in a wealthy community

* People who have volunteered to create sites for social clubs and religious organizations

* Anyone who has a decent budget and wants to make the most of every penny

Bickner successfully addresses these varying skill and knowledge levels. Her core audience has some experience building and publishing Web sites and a basic knowledge of HTML and XHTML. But she doesn't exclude readers like me who are new to Web design. Instead of dumbing down her material to reach us, she helpfully suggests specific outside resources that will bring us up to speed. Even without those resources, I found the book disarmingly easy to read and understand, largely because of the sidebar definitions generously sprinkled throughout.

The book's modular design will aid busy professionals who have little time to digest lengthy discourse. Each chapter begins with a checklist summarizing the chapter's main points. Small sections in each chapter called "Spinning straw into gold" and "Budget threat" pique readers' by offering specific tips for stretching budgets and preventing project derailment.

The book's chapters are grouped under two headings, "Production" and "Tools." Within each chapter Bickner presents one or two key cost-savings strategies and the techniques to carry them out.

"Production" chapters include:

* "The secrets to a successful shoestring project" -- Keep your focus clear.

* "The pound wise project plan" -- Dare to do less.

* "Usability on the cheap" -- Create a toolkit of usability techniques.

* "Why good copy counts" -- Maximize the value of every word.

* "The design: Looking good with less" -- Produce an inexpensive site that looks fully professional. "Tools" chapters include:

* "Content management on a tight budget" -- Find the best content management system for your money (or for free).

* "Save time and money with Web standards" -- Create a durable site that will save money in the long run.

* "Bang-for-your buck hosting and domains" -- Defeat hidden costs.

Each chapter contains illustrations, examples, and actual stories related to the topic at hand. For instance, the content management chapter could have been a thicket of pros and cons, a quagmire of conflicting features. But Bickner neatly whips her information into shape.

She begins with a basic explanation of a content management system (CMS) and how it can facilitate site maintenance. Then she uses personal experience to illustrate the process of analyzing your situation and finding the tools and resources that will be most cost-effective. She warns against the three greatest CMS threats to a shoestring budget:

* Not knowing what you need

* Paying for too much solution to your problem

* Not knowing what CMS-like tools you already have at your disposal

After demonstrating how to defeat these threats, she presents a worksheet that can be used to compare features needed against CMS features offered. As a bonus, Bickner then addresses in some depth the content management systems with which she is familiar, having subjected them to analysis in her own situation.

Her chapter on Web standards resonates with me, because I am accustomed to applying style standards to the deliverables I edit. Bickner makes a persuasive case for the application of Web standards. She contends that although implementing these standards involves a bit of extra time and care in the beginning, the effort returns big dividends as you maintain your site and prepare to expand your focus as your budget increases.

At 215 pages, Web design on a shoestring is a quick read, but it contains a wealth of ideas, strategies, and tips deserving of future reference. Above all, it is itself an outstanding product of Bickner's mantra: "Dare to do less, but do it well."

LINDA FROST BRANAM is an STC senior member with a background in computer documentation and training. She edits documentation at HP. She has been a writer and editor of Compaq marketing white papers, editor for Compaq ESG training, training specialist for a digital record system, and Houston chronicle stringer.
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Title Annotation:Book Reviews
Author:Branam, Linda Frost
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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