Although the general attitude towards self-learning has become largely optimistic, all of us have been at one point or another acquainted with those skeptical voices, telling you it can’t be done – ‘You just can’t read a book and expect to master a subject’. Those who like to run you down might even succeed most of the time, partly because they raise some valid concerns. But there are practical answers to all these so-called rhetorical questions.
During the last decade at least, there’s been an increasing wave of people who have experienced success with their business and have felt the need to share their way of doing things. Ergo, books and lots of books on the subject.
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With that thought in mind, I’ve put together for you a compilation of must-read web design resources, broken down into topics and experience that are available online for free.
Best Beginner Resources
A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web (HTML + PDF) – Mark Boulton
This would be your go-to design manual for graphic design theory applied to the world wide web. You’ll find it on more than one recommendation lists and the reason is its conciseness and readability. This eBook is available directly online and takes you through the differences of traditional design process versus web design process, after which you’ll learn about the importance of research, typography, color and layout.
Head First HTML and CSS (PDF) – Eric & Elisabeth Freeman
Are you completely new to the HTML game? Then you’re part of the target readership of this fun beginner’s guide that features a FAQ section titled ‘There are no dumb questions‘ almost every time it approaches a specific topic. Also, don’t expect mounds of text and boorish tones. It’s filled with examples, imagery and exercises for you to put in practice.
Learning Web Design (PDF) – Jennifer Niederst Robbins
Another beginner’s guide that covers a lot of ground, starting from what the term web design actually means and how different people could use the term for different sets of skills, ranging from graphic design to programming and detailing further on each of them. The book moves on to teach you about all the stages of website-building, so that you can master the skills to get your design work up and running.
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design (PDF) – Jason Beaird
An in-depth look at the artistic side of web design is what this book’s aiming to offer – and it succeeds. Out of all the design resources out there, how many have you seen actually taking you through the psychology of colour? The book includes chapters on layout, textures, typography and imagery, each with arguments and examples of what to do and how to do it so that the finished product looks appealing and well-crafted.
Advanced Web Design & Specific Topics
An Advanced Guide to Web Design (HTML) – Shay Howe
Expanding on the beginner’s guide written by the same author (which you can also check out), this advanced edition is available entirely free online and brings you up to speed with responsive web design, an aspect which came to be increasingly important once people got to know and extensively use mobile platforms. The eBook is easy to read, enriched with illustrated examples and most definitely one to keep in mind.
Dive Into HTML5 (HTML) – Mark Pilgrim
You may have heard of Mark Pilgrim before this introduction, he is a well-known developer and free software advocate with quite a few eccentricities. Back to the topic at hand, he started a project that has been continued by a community of followers regarding HTML 5, its uses and proper integration in the web design process.
The Essential Guide to User Interface – Wilbert O. Galitz: A book that covers both GUI and Web User Interface, with characteristics, comparisons and best design practices for both. It is largely theoretical, but proves useful if you are looking to understand the human elements that need to be taken into accountfor the end result to be an excellent user interface design. This willmore than likely do wonders for the website you may be planning to build.
If you’re looking for more resources on typography, we recommend you read The Elements of Typographic Style for the Web (HTML) and Type Classification (PDF). The subject will have been covered if you go through some of the above suggestions, but when you need to review specifics, these two eBooks will come handy.
Performance & Creativity
How to Motivate Creative People (Including Yourself) (HTML + PDF) – Mark McGuinness
If you’re an experienced web designer, you know that sometimes you’ll be able to take care of some projects on your own, while in other cases you will have to work with a small team of people. Whatever’s the case, reading this book will help you understand the different types of motivations people experience and how the relationship between motivation and creativity unfolds.
The Design Funnel: A Manifesto for Meaningful Design (PDF) – Stephen Hay
You might have noticed how hard it seems to innovate in the world of web design. There are a lot of copy-cats out there and you could say that lack of talent accounts for them. What if it’s not so much talent at fault, but a lack of creativity, induced by unquestioned, repetitive work processes? Stephen Hay expands on this idea and suggests a particular order in which to approach a project so that every finished design product showcases its own spirit, adapted to its purposes.
More Time Now: Time Management Made Simple Again (PDF) – Dave Navarro
A fun read on time-wasting behaviors that each of us needs to acknowledge and quit enabling. Redefine your understanding of time management and start making things happen with a few tweaks added here and there to your work schedule.
What Matters Now (PDF) – Seth Godin
This book doesn’t cover any specific topic, but rather joins a lot of people’s (successful bloggers, entrepreneurs, best-selling authors) thoughts on simple notions such as empathy, productivity, enrichment, vision and so on. You could say it’s an unconventional dictionary, while all of its ‘definitions’ lead back to the creative-business world to some extent. All in all, an essential read that’s likely to leave you thinking.
Business & Freelancing
Web Designer’s Success Guide (HTML + PDF) – Kevin Airgid
With a straightforward subtitle, namely How to profit from freelance web design, this little gem will take you through freelancing and self-employment step-by-step. There are many details left untouched by most titles covering freelancing, maybe because they seem difficult to pin down in a general form. We’re talking about little things, such as deciding how much to charge for your services, possible mistakes you could make in relation to your clients (case studies), but also a dedicated interest to what your home office should be like in terms of furniture and hardware.
How To Be Creative (PDF) – Hugh MacLeod
A very honest and thus valuable eBook on integrating creativity in the grand scheme of your professional life. Not so much referring to work methods, How To Be Creative discusses which compromises you might have to take in your creative pursuits, as well as those you’ll have to avoid, how you can’t be a professionally creative person without taking responsibility for what you do, why all of us are different and how damaging it is to fail to see that. It’s a personal and professional development book that we undoubtedly recommend, complete with a series of wonderful cartoons drawn by the author himself.
Personal Branding for the Business Professional (PDF) – Chris Brogan
The basics of personal branding are covered in this concise 15-page eBook. Chris has put together more than a few useful points on a topic which some freelancers really struggle with. Promoting yourself may come to you easily, but it’s likely you’re not focused on it, especially if you’re starting out.And this would be the time it matters most –the more established you get, the less you have to invest in your branding strategy.
What are some of your favorite web design eBooks? Have you picked up a specific skill exclusively by using this sort of book and what was it? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.