My home office is filled with books, a mix of fiction and nonfiction. I’m often asked about recommendations, so I thought I’d share some of my favourite web-related books.

A pile of books

Kill it with Fire by Marianne Bellotti

Programming books can often be dry and difficult to get through. The blurb had me thinking this one could be a slog:

Kill It with Fire chronicles the challenges of dealing with ageing computer systems, along with sound modernization strategies.

It turned out that wasn’t the case at all. I loved this book. It’s full of sage wisdom and actionable advice that we can use as website builders and owners. What surprised me most was that it was a business book in disguise: a lot of the book focused on people, teams, communication, and culture.

I tell my engineers that the biggest problems we have to solve are not technical problems, but people problems. Modernization projects take months, if not years of work. Keeping a team of engineers focused, inspired, and motivated from beginning to end is difficult. Keeping their senior leadership prepared to invest over and over on what is, in effect, something they already have is a huge challenge. Creating momentum and sustaining it are where most modernization projects fail.

Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton

One of our core principles when building websites is that content matters above all else. The design phase is often the most enjoyable part of a website redesign project, but I’d argue the words on the page are the most important.

What you say and how you say it is challenging to get right. One of the best guides I’ve found for creating clear and friendly content is Nicely Said. It’ll talk you through writing basics, finding your tone of voice and how to sell with writing.

The book does a wonderful job of conveying the importance of being human. Erin Kissane summed it up well in the book’s forward:

The wonderful thing about the book is it unapologetic, matter-of-fact belief that humanness matters as much as form expertise, and that compassion trumps cleverness. The result is a writing guide that grounds its wealth of practical advice in empty for reading and their needs–and really digs into what that means, and how to about understand the culture, vocabulary, and sensibilities of the communities you write for.

Cadence and Slang by Nick Disabato

Cadence and Slang is a “compendium of evergreen principles for interaction design that advocates simplicity, consistency, and humanity in technology”. Nickd, the author, designed and typeset the book and did an excellent job. It deserves a spot on any designer’s bookshelf.

Just Enough Research by Erika Hall

This blog post could just be a list of A Book Apart’s back catalogue. If you’re into web stuff (and presumably you are, else why are you reading this?), go check them out; they’re fantastic.

I’ve read several of ABA’s books, but I’ve limited my picks for this list to two. The first is Just Enough Research.

Just like content, research is often overlooked or misunderstood. Erika Hall has written a brilliant introduction that’ll teach you how to perform user, organisational, competitive, evaluative, and quantitive research. It’s a book I return to often.

Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro

I first read this book in 2012 and then again a few years later. It’s one of those books I like to reread often. It’s a short book full of sage business advice for designers.

The book reminds us that a designer’s job isn’t to create art; it’s to solve client’s problems.

“First step to designing anything: Ask ‘Why are we doing this?’ If the answer isn’t clear, or isn’t clear to you, or just doesn’t exist, you can’t design anything. Stop working. Can you help set those goals? If so, do it.”

Making Websites Win by Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson

Most books on website design focus on the technical aspects but fail to teach how to create effective websites. This book teaches you how to perform research to understand your visitors better and then how to make frequent incremental changes to grow your website.

If you do make your website more beautiful, ensure your designs are minimalist—visually and technically. Keep them elegantly simple and easy to update. And don’t forget that—like the Stanley hammer—good functional design has a beauty of its own.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Don’t Make Me Think is an old book initially published in 2000 (but has since been revised in 2013). It’s a quick read that talks about web usability. While the web changes at an ever-increasing rate, the fundamentals of usability do not, so it’s still worth a read all these years later.

Sprint by Jake Knapp

The idea of a design sprint is to build and test a prototype in just five days. Take a small team and clear their schedule for a week. It’s surprising how much progress you can make in short, focused bursts.

We often use sprints with clients to make progress quickly, and this book is the guide we use. It’s full of actionable advice and checklists to guide a successful sprint.

Click by Paul Boag

There’s often a conflict when we build websites: on the one hand, we want to build websites that are effective conversion machines. Conversely, we want to be ethical and compassionate for the end user. Often, the former wins out, and websites get overloaded with tracking software and shady techniques.

Click is an excellent read on how to build websites that convert while doing so ethically and by avoiding dark patterns.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Show Your Work is a marketing book for people who hate the idea of self-promotion. One of my favourite principles from the book is incredibly simple but also liberating: teach what you know. You don’t need to be an expert and you don’t need to be an amazing writer: just teach what you learnt today. Then do the same tomorrow.

Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how to do your work, you are, in effect, generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.

I love a good book, so if you’ve read something great lately (web-related or not), let me know!

Written by Marc Jenkins

Marc has been building websites of all shapes and sizes for well over a decade. He specialises in building bespoke WordPress sites.

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