From the time I started messing about on the web, books have formed a core part of my ongoing professional development in web technology. True, I am a book fanatic anyway (my total home library exceeds 4,000 physical volumes) but web design and development seemed particularly suited to propping open a book next to the monitor and working through the theories and practices of HTML, CSS and the increasingly complex technologies that followed.
Digital books are excellent, too (copy/paste code blocks for the win!), but I do like the physical touch, adding post-it notes and scribbled margin notes, bending page corners as temporary bookmarks, breaking spines to keep them open to the right page (I’m not fussed about keeping my books pristine – they’re there to be used).
There’s clear evidence I’m not the only one. In 2015, I was commissioned to ghost write an article on the best books to learn web design. It amazes me that this article still comes up on the first page of Google results for the search term “best web design books”, and there are thousands and thousands of results. There is clearly a massive thirst for books on web design and development. And for articles listing them.
I was lucky in that I found the SitePoint Forums – a godsend for asking (and answering) web tech queries. I wrote a few articles for the site, was given a shot at tech editing a couple of books and ended up Managing Editor of the SitePoint website for a few years. That gave me access to SitePoint books, which have formed a big part of the tutorial wing of my library. A Book Apart, New Riders and Smashing have also all been reliable book sources over the years.
When I realised the other day that my web tech book collection now exceeds 150, I thought it might be useful to list the titles as a sort of bibliography to my working life.
I should note these are the books I’ve kept. There are probably a couple of dozen that turned out not to be worth keeping but the ones I’ve listed are all worth a look for one reason or another.
That also made me consider which books would make my top ten – and even how I would judge such a thing. In the end, I’ve picked out a dozen that have had – and continue to have – a profound effect on how I think about and practise web design and development. I’ve bolded them in the main listing, but I’ll put them here, as well, in chronological order.
- Weaving the Web. Tim Berners Lee. Orion Business Books, 1999
- The Art & Science of Web Design. Jeffrey Veen. New Riders, 2000
- Don’t Make Me Think. Steve Krug. New Riders, 2000
- Designing with Web Standards. Jeffrey Zeldman. New Riders, 2003
- Transcending CSS. Andy Clarke. New Riders, 2006
- The PHP Anthology. Various. SitePoint, 2007
- Mental Models. Indi Young. Rosenfeld, 2008
- Responsive Web Design. Ethan Marcotte. A Book Apart, 2014
- CSS Secrets. Lea Verou. O’Reilly, 2015
- Inclusive Design Patterns. Heydon Pickering. Smashing, 2016
- Form Design Patterns. Adam Silver. Smashing, 2018
- Ruined by Design. Mike Monteiro. Mule Books, 2019
As a closing note, I will add that while it’s true many of the more technical books have lost some relevance as the technology they describe has been superseded, the best books remain relevant even as they age. Have a look at how the older books discuss accessibility and you can see how we have turned it from an underlying assumption into an edge case add-on. Progress doesn’t always take us forward.
Good books last.