Taking Your Talent to the Web, Jeffrey Zeldman

New Rider, 2001, 426 pages, C$59.95 tpb, ISBN 0-7356-1073-2

Zeldman. Jeffrey Zeldman. Mis-ter Zeldman… which should be said with a slight French accent: Mys-tère Zeldman, for it’s not clear how someone with so much personality was allowed to write a technical book about web design.

Most of the time, a technical book review will focus on the nuts and bolts of the content, the accuracy of the advice and the freshness of the details. But Taking Your Talents to the Web suggests a different approach. Whereas most technical books are dryer than a sunny Arizona day, Zeldman’s book is infused with so much personality that reviewing the authors seems as valid as reviewing the content of the book.

Naturally, I’m biased in this regard. Through his evangelism at www.webstandards.org, his editorship of the weekly e-zine www.alistapart.com and his blog at www.zeldman.com, Jeffrey Zeldman has been a guru of sorts for me as a web designer. His tireless push towards web standards meshed with my own preferences, and if I can blame a single person for my increasing professionalism in terms of XHTML design, Zeldman would be it. Reading the book came after my worship of the guy, not the other way around. This being said, I’d defy any professional web-person not to be impressed by Taking Your Talent to the Web.

It’s also different from the usual technical manual in terms of target audience: Zeldman is a designer first and foremost, and an XHTML maven second. (Or maybe third; his strong writing skills might make him a writer first.) Taking Your Talent To The Web is, as the subtitle says, “A Manual for the Transitioning Designer”. In other words, the target audience for this book already knows design; what they won’t know as much is the web. This makes for an interesting reading experience; the readership of the book is decidedly technical, but in a non-computer-related domain. The angle of attack is slightly askew, and for a computer-technical person with deficient designing skills such as myself, this makes for an interesting reading experience. Zeldman is writing for a smart audience, but they may not know exactly what XHTML geeks already know.

Zeldman’s overview of the origins of the web is wonderful (“Chapter 4: How This Web Thing Got Started”), as are his considerations on the nature of being in the web design business (“Chapter 7: Riding the Project Life Cycle”). Taking Your Talents To the Web isn’t quite so compelling when it delves into acutely specific technical details (“Chapter 12, Beyond Text/Pictures”), but I doubt that by then, most readers will stop reading.

The reason is simple: Zeldman may very well be the funniest technical writer ever to write about web design. Fireworks of wit and humor pepper every page of Taking Your Talent to the Web, from headers to body text itself. I found myself reading this manual concurrently with one of Dave Barry’s anthologies and finding scant difference between the two styles. Don’t think Zeldman skimps on the technical accuracy, though; it’s just that he’s funny in addition of being implacably correct.

This sense of fun is also reflected in the advice told by Zeldman. I’ve had my fill of technical manuals telling me that usability is factor number one, and it took a pro designer to point out a simple truth: All web sites do not have to sell something. They don’t all have to provide information. They can be entertaining, or expressive, or simply baffling and there is nothing wrong with that. No one is forcing you to make your personal web site user-friendly. It’s all right to be non-linear if that’s what you want. It’s a stupid revelation, really, but in a field where usability guru Jakob Nielson is worshipped by many, including your reviewer, it’s useful to take some time and realize that not all of us are designing for Fortune-500 companies. It’s not forbidden to have fun.

It helps, of course, that Zeldman himself looks as if he’s having a lot of fun doing what he does. Furthermore, he keeps preaching -through all the fun- rigorous web design methods, from useful divisions of responsibility to adequate use of bandwidth and validated XHTML coding. Hm, an author who’s technically adept and constantly fun… Trust Zeldman. Zeldman is your friend. I’m not sure if I can make this book any more attractive to you, so why don’t you go out and rush get a copy, already?

(For a preview, extra info and more plain good fun, don’t forget the book’s wonderful web site, at www.zeldman.com/talent.htm )

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