Book Review: Web Style Guide (by Lynch and Horton)

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The Web Style Guide: Foundations of User Experience Design (by Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton) is fabulous. It achieves its aim of setting out clearly, in great detail (and always with justification and explanation) how to create a website.

No one can know everything about website design. We all bring our biases, our experience and our specialisms. The breadth and overview of this book will make you consider areas that you’re not familiar with, and it will force you to consider things from the site users’ point(s) of view.  The attention to detail and the thoughtful writing make this book special.

Benefits for freelancers

If you are working alone the Web Style Guide can fill in your personal gaps. The chapter on market research was specially valuable to me – it’s not my specialist area but for small clients (with small budgets) I don’t feel I can bring in an expert. This book gave me just enough knowledge and hints, added to my general marketing skills, to feel confident I could still do a good, thorough job in that area of planning.

The book reminds you of the stages you need to go to, which is extra useful when you are operating at the edge of your own comfort zone in a specific area. It provides explanations for why the stages are recommended in the way they are. You can choose to agree or not, but you’ll be better informed, either way.

Benefits for larger teams

People working in large teams will find they can read chapters about another specialism and improve how they work, as a result. Understanding the way another team works, their jargon and preoccupations can improve the overall flow of a project. And, of course, it can improve colleague relations as well!

The sense I had after reading this book was that it contained the wisdom of colleagues. Within it you’ll find:

  • the reassuring senior mentor you wished you could turn to
  • the skilled assistant with specialist knowledge
  • the quirky creative who convinces you to ‘give something a try and see if it works’
  • the accessibility expert ensuring inclusion at each stage

Just as you find when working with a good colleague you’ll be kept on track, challenged, reminded of key issues and you’ll feel supported.

One-off / very small sites

Unless you are very keen to do everything exactly right and spend hours over each stage I wouldn’t recommend this book for a solo entrepreneur putting together a  single, small brochure site. You’ll get bogged down in the detail and never start your project. You can find other useful guides that are more appropriate and will get you where you need to be faster. I would suggest any of the books (for which she provides online updates as the technology changes) by Alannah Moore.

Organising your work

I use this book to organise my planning of projects. You can do a lot worse than work through the phases as set out in the chapters (probably even in the order they are presented). It has helped me to ‘slot’ various colleagues into jobs at the right time, and not (invariably) too late so that we have to go over things.

I have created various resources for myself and clients using information from this book. For example, I’ve used it to put together:

  • customer questionnaires to help me quickly scope a  job at a first meeting
  • organise ‘card sorting’ research exercises with customers
  • briefs for colleagues I need to work with
  • time flow/schedules for my own use (and sometimes to share with clients, when relevant)

It’s a handbook that is immediately of great practical use, as well as a resource to dive deeply into. The ‘recommended reading’ section at the end of each chapter provides helpful signposts to other books, websites and resources.

In summary…

Sarah Horton and Patrick Lynch pooled their broad, as well as deep, knowledge of different aspects of website planning and design to create a book that functions as my ‘go to’ handbook for everything to do with website design. The business studies publishing market is saturated with books that find a snazzy but spivvy way to help you sell old rope.  This one is different. It’s both sensible and brilliant and I can’t recommend it enough.

Where to find the book

There is a website associated with the book which seems to have the whole book contents on it. I like to have a real book in my hands but if you enjoy reading long-form pieces online then this might work for you.

You can find it on Hive (in the UK) as a paperback and e-book and on Amazon all over the place, of course. (Not affiliate links to either site.)