Non-Fiction Textbook Review – The Non-Designer’s Design Book

  • Title: The Non-Designer’s Design Book
  • Author: Robin Williams
  • Subject: Graphic Design, Technical Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/22/2015

I bought this book for an advanced Technical Writing class, then ironically had to drop the class because I got a full-time job. I just picked up the book again and read it all the way through.

The good points – this is a quick and breezy book with a lot of examples. I felt most of the examples clearly illustrated the points that the author, an experienced graphic designer, was trying to make.

The bad points – the section on website design was extremely out of date. Recent research on how people use the web emphasizes two things: for websites, san serif fonts are easier to read, especially for large blocks of print (the opposite is true for printed books – where serif fonts are easier to read); and second, although customers hate horizontal (or back-and-forth) scrolling on websites, vertical scrolling is OK. In fact, with the phenomenal growth of tablets and smart phones, vertical scrolling is not only OK – it’s expected.

The author repeats the out-of-date, graphic design advice that “everything has to fit on a standard screen size for a webpage”. That simply isn’t true anymore, in part because there is no standard screen size – a flat-screen monitor may be large and square – or thin and rectangular (widescreen). And then there’s screens which are very small and vertical (smartphone), or vertical and larger (tablet), or even medium sized and horizontal (tablet in landscape mode). Since you have no idea what the viewing screen will be – deciding the “optimum” screen size and designing for it isn’t possible. The latest marketing tools talk about “flowable” screens and “design for mobile”. However, that’s really only one chapter of this book – and the basic design principles probably haven’t changed, especially when designing for paper (books, magazines, newsletters, print ads) etc.

My other gripe was the Mac-Centered nature of the book. Yes, I realize that graphic design was one area that has been traditionally dominated by Apple computer products – but I use a Microsoft Windows PC, and when I use Adobe products (Acrobat, InDesign, Photoshop) it’s the Windows-versions of those products that I use. It was annoying for most of the sample typefaces to be Mac-specific fonts, or the Mac version of fonts because that makes it hard to figure out the specifics of some of the lessons. At least a comparative list of Mac vs. Window fonts would have helped.

Still, I enjoyed reading The Non-Designer’s Design Book and I felt I learned something from it. It also wasn’t overwhelming at all, which is perfect for an introductory textbook.

Here are three recent blog posts all declaring that for on-line use san serif fonts are more readable (serif fonts still rule for paper publications).

What’s the Most Readable Font for the Screen?

Screen Readability

The Best Fonts: Print, Screen, Email

The concept of designing, without design, that is – to allow a website site to flow correctly on any screen size from an extra-large PC Monitor to a small smart phone is known as Responsive Design.

 

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Book Review – London Falling

  • Title: London Falling
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/02/2014

“You with the tentacles, you’re nicked!” ~ Paul Cornell ~ London Falling

The first fifty pages or so of London Falling read like a gritty British police drama. Four cops are working their last night on a long complicated case to catch a gangster. One of the cops is dirty, and the others are just exhausted – knowing if this last desperate try doesn’t work, their funding will be pulled and they won’t be able to continue to pursue Toshack. It’s all or nothing. They catch him, but he dies in police custody in mysterious circumstances. Circumstances that have nothing to do with the usual suspects of bent coppers. The investigation quickly changes everything as the four cops (one’s an technical analyst) develop The Sight, and end up on a much stranger case.

Technically, I would give this book three and a half stars. It reads more like horror than fantasy. And, although I liked it – the story was SO dark, at times I just didn’t feel like picking up the book. However, the story does move at a good clip, once it gets going, and I loved the last few chapters.

The end of the book sets up a sequel, which is apparently coming next May. I’ll look forward to it. Much of this novel felt like set-up and introduction, and a full story set in this world with these characters could be really cool.

Oddly enough, when I was reading the book, I thought it would make a great television series. Paul Cornell is nothing if not a visual writer. In the afterword, the author mentions it was originally a television series pitch from “decades ago”.

PS: This movie has nothing whatsoever to do with the recent (2014-2016) apocalyptic disaster film with the same title.