In just 253 thinly-laden pages, "Web Redesign: Workflow that Works" dodges the special challenges of redesigning Web sites, and ranges well beyond Web designers' workflow issues. How, then, does this newest addition to the Web site builder's library justify your time and its price?
The answer is that "Web Redesign" teaches designers to mix discipline with all that painful designer hipness. With its semi-gloss pages, landscape format, copious illustrations and liberal use of Jan Tschichold's elegant Garamond typeface variant Sabon, this volume entices lovers of design. Then the text content slips in, all rational and process-oriented, to explain soberly that Web design must push beyond pretty, that it demands documentation and budgets and schedules and testing or the whole damn glorious enterprise will fall in a heap. Authors Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler, old-school Web designers themselves, enthuse over funky skating sites while earnestly explaining that such sites need project plans. Screenshots of budget spreadsheets sit next to screenshots of sites with fancy menus and lots of designer-illegible tiny grey text.
Does all the rationality sound a little familiar? It should, these days. "Web Redesign" spends much of its time in territory already authoritatively mapped by 2000's volume from Ashley Friedlein, "Web Project Management". Friedlein's book possesses all the flair promised in its title, but its publication marked a new phase for the discipline of Web site development. "Web Redesign" echoes most of what Friedlein has said, with less depth and more glamour.
Like Friedlein's book, "Web Redesign" focuses on deliverables - tasks that you can list, tasks that you can celebrate completing, and tasks whose completion entitles you to ask the client for money. Like Friedlein's book, it broadly adopts software's longstanding systems development life cycle, which moves from project definition to detailed planning, to build, to implementation, and finally to system support. Like Friedlein's book, it accepts the challenge of gathering Web site content, a challenge alien to traditional software development.
Unlike Friedlein's book, however, "Web Redesign" offers a swag of basic site design techniques, from audience profiling to establishing file-naming conventions. Indeed, it reads as its authors' accumulation of notes on how to get sites out the door. It compensates for a wooden prose style by enlisting sidebars, diagrams, worksheets, sketches, summaries, tips and just about anything else that might keep the reader engaged.
This book also grants usability testing a key role in site development: its 18-page user testing summary, laced liberally with the thoughts of Jakob Nielsen, ranks with the best.
Don't buy it just because you're planning a site redesign, though. Barely a sentence in it does not apply equally to new sites. A serious book on redesign would show readers how to evaluate the performance of existing and new sites, not dismiss evaluation in three paragraphs. A serious book about site redesigns would place usability testing right at the start of the redesign process, not shove it carelessly into the second-last chapter. A serious book about site redesigns would discuss the sheer riskiness of a once-off redesign, and tackle the tough challenges of designing for continual change and expansion. But Goto and Cotler show little expertise or interest in evaluation, maintainable design or evolutionary improvement - and with that "Web Redesign" title they simply lie outright.
Forgive that lie. Goto and Cotler are at least spreading the word that Web site creation is a discipline. The combination of Friedlein's "Web Project Management" and Nielsen's "Designing Web Usability" (...) massively outguns the Goto & Cotler volume. If you can buy those two and read them, you should. But if you want to read - or want to hand a designer - one pretty volume, then "Web Redesign" is your first choice.