As a web design author, I often get asked what books I recommend. This of course depends on who is asking and what they want to learn, but one book I often pass along is Curt Cloninger's original* Fresh Styles for Web Designers: Eye Candy from the Underground from 2001. The specific design examples are quite outdated now, but to me, that book was a pivotal source of inspiration at a time when everything online seemed to be either boringly corporate or awkwardly amateur. Cloninger helped me to see the web differently; I learned to creatively tag design trends and techniques so that I could mentally catalog them for my own use.
This process of mentally classifying design inspiration has become a critical part of my growth as a designer as well as my ability to explain web design to the non-designer. In The Web Designer's Idea Book, Patrick McNeil takes the task of cataloging current trends and styles to a meticulous new level. Within the book's 256 pages, McNeil has sorted over 700 screenshots of stellar site design by color, design style, type, theme, element and structure. Within these 6 chapters, he has defined a total of 75 individual design categories. Some examples of these categories include: Blogs, E-Commerce, Minimalist, Wood, Pink & Blue, Muted, Rays, Gradients, Tabs and Massive Footers. Then, within each of these seemingly exclusive categories there are a few paragraphs explaining when, how, and why it should be used along with an average of 8 or 9 example screenshots.
Obviously, reading this book will not teach you to be a great website designer. What it will do is expand your design vocabulary and train you to break down your favorite sources of design inspiration into bite-sized chunks that you can use in your own work. I spent a good portion of the cold, rainy weekend reading through the text in each category and pouring over the pages of screenshots. I saw quite a few familiar examples of good design, but was amazed by quantity of inspirational sites that I had never heard of. If I had one complaint about the book it would be that I wish all of the screenshots were full-size, or perhaps if they couldn't be, that there was an archive of the full-size screenshots posted somewhere on the web. Regardless, I'm sure the book will be a huge source of inspiration for me for years to come. Then, when it is too old to serve as inspiration, it will most certainly be an excellent resource for web design history.
* As I was writing this review, I discovered that Curt Cloninger just released a sequel to this book: Fresher Styles for Web Designers: More Eye Candy from the Underground You can be sure that I'll be reviewing this book as well in the near future.