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The Art and Science of Web Design turns 5

29 Jun 2005

I wrote The Art and Science of Web Design five years ago. That doesn’t seem like all that long ago, really, but when I recently paged through the book I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much had changed. When I started writing the book in the winter of 1999, there were no large-scale commercial sites built with standards-based markup. Every single design decision we made factored the dial-up experience. Personal home pages were still a handcrafted-html effort; blogs had only barely emerged on the scene.

I was frustrated with the state of things back then. I was building a team at HotWired, which had become a division of the Lycos search portal. That was the height of the boom, and hiring designers meant talking to dozens of people who thought being a good designer meant not collapsing layers before throwing the Photoshop file over to “one of those HTML people.” Later, I would recall those days in an interview:

Back then, I would encounter a lot of snobby "transitioners" -- people who had been working in print for years and were now moving over to the Web. And they had it all figured out and knew how to get around the stupid constraints of Web browsers. Remember when Web sites used to have huge home pages constructed entirely out of images so that designers could have control over typefaces?

Where were the designers who understood the importance of semantic markup? That technological constraint of browsers and slow networks were just an opportunity for deeply creative hacking? That design consistency sets us free?

So I quit complaining about it and wrote a book instead. It was quite a bit of fun and did well enough to spawn a few printings and some translations. I also got to work with really smart people, like Steve Champeon who questioned every idea I had, and Doug Bowman, who made those ideas so beautiful I almost cried when I first held it in my hands. (And, for the record, the cover came from the publisher, not Doug.)

But like I said, much has changed in five years. While much of the book holds ideas I still adamantly profess today, it’s wrapped in an historical context that is tough to get past. In fact, the book feels most valuable to me as a way of marking the progress we’ve made since it was published.

So have a look through the book. I’ve made the original PDF proof available as a 3.4 megabyte download: The Art and Science of Web Design.

Let me know what you think. How much progress have we made in five years time? Is either the art or the science of web design any better now? ​