Web Application Design Handbook: Best Practices for Web-Based Software (Interactive Technologies)

Web Application Design Handbook: Best Practices for Web-Based Software (Interactive Technologies)

“Susan and Victor have written the ‘Junior Woodchucks Guidebook’ of Web applications: Everything you need to know is in there, including tons of best-practice examples, insights from years of experience, and assorted fascinating arcana. If you’re writing a Web application, you’d be foolish not to have a copy.”
–Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

“Web sites are so nineties. The cutting edge of Web-design has moved to Web applications.

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  1. 37 of 42 people found the following review helpful:
    1.0 out of 5 stars
    Very Disappointed – Design or Development?, February 9, 2007
    This review is from: Web Application Design Handbook: Best Practices for Web-Based Software (Interactive Technologies) (Paperback)

    I bought this book because Krug’s book (Don’t Make Me Think) recommended it and because my main concern was web-based business applications not public web sites.

    I was extremely disappointed by Web Application Design Handbook:
    1) It doesn’t say much more than what any Windows developer has known
    for the past 10 years
    2) It is full of discussions about software DEVELOPMENT but it is
    supposed to be a DESIGN book
    3) It is supposed to be a book about WEB design but half of it is
    about reports, graphs, diagrams, and maps

    The first half of the book concentrates on what was advertised: design/usability of web-based applications. But it doesn’t offer many new ideas. Most of the recommendations are well-known to Windows developers. It doesn’t give enough attention to what’s different about web-based applications.

    The amount of useful, thought-provoking information in this book that could help a Windows developer create better web-based applications is no more than 50 pages. Not very good for a book of 600 pages.

    The book does not inspire confidence that the recommendations are based on real usability testing. There’s a lot of conventional wisdom followed by a lot of suggestions to figure it out yourself with your own usability tests.

    The book has a maddening tendency to slip into development issues. Why on earth are there JavaScript code examples in a design book???!!! Why are there discussions about the impact of client vs server-side code on network bandwidth? Not only are these discussions distracting, they are also full of half-truths, oversimplifications, obsolete information, and some outright mistakes.

    Almost 2/3 of the book is about topics that are beyond the scope of web application design (ok they’re at least straining the limits): reports, graphs, diagrams, maps. That material would be handled better in a separate book, dedicated to those topics. As it is, most of the book is irrelevant to my needs.

    If you are concerned with usability/GUI design of web sites or web applications forget this book and get Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think instead.

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  2. 29 of 33 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An excellent resource for web application designers, August 18, 2004
    Alice Preston “Alice” (New Jersey) –
    This review is from: Web Application Design Handbook: Best Practices for Web-Based Software (Interactive Technologies) (Paperback)

    What is a web application? This is not such an easy question to answer, and rather than simply muddy the water further or leave the definition as an undirected exercise for the reader as do some of the other web application books available today, Fowler and Stanwick devote a chapter to it. Not only do they deliver a matrix that helps you to figure out where your project fits, they also get to the meat: based on where it fits, what design differences do you need to keep in mind? They then give you worksheets to fill out for yourself.

    After you decide where your project falls on the page-to-application continuum, you’re ready to start figuring out its data architecture, layout, navigation, and presentation details. The first half of the book deals with these issues, including how the controls work for web applications, the differences between them and the controls used in more standard applications, and when to use which. Also, special topics such as searching, filtering, browsing, which have been honed and refined-and sometimes broken-by the size and breadth of the Web, are here summarized and presented in a way that makes them approachable and usable design achievable. For those with real-world responsibilities, there are excellent discussions of internationalization and accessibility, as well as techniques for appropriate use of HTML and CSS (cascading style sheets).

    Web-based software poses some real challenges, especially if it’s going to be coded in straight HTML and HTML/forms (even if you use a little JavaScript on the side). Java Applets and Flash pose a slightly different set of challenges. Fowler and Stanwick wade right in, devoting chapters to all the critical things you’ll need to know to design a usable application, from the browser framework through advice on input, data retrieval and output, through how to set it up for reasonable user interaction with output.

    And then they get to my favorite part, which is an excellent reference on what kinds of graphics you can use and when to use which. This part of the book covers graphs and charts, diagrams, and geographic maps. This is a better coverage of this subject than I have seen anywhere else, and it’s only half of this book!

    In addition to being an impressive researcher, Susan Fowler is also an expert on the use of graphics in applications. Anyone who’s attended a seminar by Edward Tufte or read one of his books knows how badly people misuse graphics. If only more designers of web applications (any applications, actually) will spend time with this book, we’ll finally start to come out of that era into one in which meaning is quickly and easily understood from a graphical presentation. I’ll be delighted when that happens. Until then, make yourself one of those who knows: read this book.

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  3. 47 of 56 people found the following review helpful:
    2.0 out of 5 stars
    What web are they talking about here?, October 8, 2005
    This review is from: Web Application Design Handbook: Best Practices for Web-Based Software (Interactive Technologies) (Paperback)

    This is a strange book. Despite the giant word “WEB” on the cover, it’s difficult to see this as “best practices for web-based software.” Instead, it reads like a guide for designers who’ve only built desktop software and are being forced against their will to deliver a web-based product.

    It’s far too long at 658 pages; there are needless sections on general suggestions for designing for the web that are far better written about elsewhere. I understand the authors’ desire for completeness, but there’s just too much basic HTML here padding out some sections.

    And the final *seven* chapters deal with the design of data reports, charts, graphs, and even maps. Now, these are important topics, but they are not such significant parts of most web applications to deserve more than half this book’s length. And have these authors never read Edward Tufte? It’s hard to imagine a collection of uglier, more garishly colored, visually heavy maps and diagrams than what’s presented here.

    It’s a little annoying, too, that most of the diagram images come from *desktop* applications like Excel or Crystal Reports, not web applications. There’s a good reason for that: these kinds of data-intense diagrams tend to be for specialist users committed to spending long hours in an application. In most cases, that’s a situation that calls for the more powerful capabilities of a desktop application. When’s the last time you looked at a scatter plot on a web site?

    But between the dull basics of the first chapters and the mind-bending statistical overkill of the last seven, there are some good and useful sections. For example, there are good rules of thumb for form layouts, handling input validation gracefully, and search filtering. There’s nothing adventerous or innovative here, of course. Advice tends toward the conservative and reliable list view-to-object view model (the way your email program works), with a few breaks for product comparison interfaces. As in so many of these kinds of books, the authors also include examples of utterly pointless novelty interfaces (zooming lenses, radial tree navigation schemes, photo “data mountains”) that are notable for their near-total absence outside the HCI lab.

    The strange thing about this book, and others like it, is the almost willful blindness of what *actually* works in web application design, and what *actual* users vote with their clicks to make successful. Innovative, popular, and usable web applications like Amazon.com, Flickr, Craigslist, eBay, Google’s Gmail, or the applications built by 37Signals are nowhere to be found. These applications are successful because they embrace the constraints imposed by the web and HTML (and their strengths), and find ways to support users’ tasks that make sense in that environment.

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