So I've been on a kick lately to publish book reviews of books I've been reading. I hesitated at writing this review given the nature of the book tends to be more around design than it does around code. I decided to write the review for a few reasons:
- Designers, who also code, may read this blog
- If you work on a web site you should care about the design since it will affect the success of your site as well the way you code
I wouldn't normally have picked up this book, instead favoring usability books by Jakob Nielsen or Steven Krug or other well known usability personalities. However, back in May I went to the ACCM Conference (Annual Conference of Catalog and Multichannel Merchants) and sat in a day long seminar by the authors of this book, Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus. Both were very knowledgeable and presented their material well and as such I was interested in the print version of the seminar, this book, Web Design for ROI.
Part I - The Big Picture
The first part of this book talks about some of the principles of what design can do and the state of web site design as a whole. If you're reading this page chances are good that you have worked for sites that pay little attention to design. If you have not worked for such a company, you can easily think of one in which you are a customer.
There is a good case made for revisiting design aspects of the site as an investment in future profitability. Quite often a site that is "up" is considered done and work soon begins on the next set of features without really watching to see how a page or set of pages is performing. Are people finding what they are looking for? Is it clear on a page what someone should do next? This book presents the idea that web design is never done and really it's a constant effort to tweak pages to see changes in the analytics.
Chapter four introduces the idea of user testing which, after being exposed to it a several years ago has been a closet interest of mine. Analytics are brought into the picture here too but again all stuff that is pretty basic if you're already in the web space and are actively tracking users and patterns. If there is one thing I learned from this section is that even the most minor changes to a web page, things most developers would scoff at, can have a dramatic effect on the performance (ROI) of a page.
Part II - Design Guidelines
This section of the book goes through different pages on an e-commerce site, landing pages, checkout, product detail pages, and of course the home page. I liked how each of these pages were featured in their own chapter. Throughout this section I appreciated the full color screen shots of examples. My only issue was with the softness of some of the advice. Granted it may be presented this way because design is really a case-by-case basis and there is really no one-size-fits-all. Or it could be that the authors feared putting concrete advice in the book only to see their advice (and book) quickly become outdated. I'm not sure.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
This book was a very quick read and did add to my knowledge a bit but more importantly got me thinking about design and usability, which is always a good thing. If you're looking for a few ideas and conversation starters with your design staff then I would pick it up. If you're new design and analytics this book can be a good primer as the various terms and definitions are given in the sidebar at times and inline. If you're in the e-Commerce space already and have been doing design for some time, I think you may be disappointed in the book because many concepts are things you would probably already know. The problem for me may lie in the intro where the authors talk about who this book is for
"These days it takes a village of people to inspire, envision, create, and maintain a web site. This book is for everyone in that village. We've attempted to make the book useful and accessible to people with a range of experience levels"
In my opinion they cast their net so wide they missed the mark. Having sat in on a seminar with Lance and Sandra, I can confidently say they know their stuff and some of that came through in the book. The problem ultimately lies in the quote above. With making this book appeal to everyone it appeals to very few because it never achieves the depth that I've seen that both Lance and Sandra have. Ultimately Lance and Sandra have a wealth of information and quite honestly I would have liked to have seen possibly two books which go into much deeper depth than this single book which scratches the surface.
08-14-2009 8:19 AM