Learning web design requires time and consistent practice. In the beginning you’ll design a lot of crappy websites. But if you can understand why they’re bad you’ll learn how to improve.
In this guide I’ll share the best books covering web design, web standards, usability, and frontend coding to help you improve at a rapid pace.
This is the ultimate collection of every book you’ll ever need to learn & master the craft of building websites.
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
If you’re looking for a cover-all intro guide to websites then grab a copy of The Principles of Beautiful Web Design. Over 220+ pages you’ll learn how websites work, what makes them great, and how users typically view websites.
You’ll also learn about design topics related to color scheme, symmetry, typography, and general principles like the rule of thirds.
Everything from simple whitespace decisions to more detailed textures can be found in this guide. It seems rather small but it covers all the basics with a focus on how real designers look at the craft of making websites. An absolute must-buy for aspiring designers.
Responsive Web Design with Photoshop
In Responsive Web Design with Photoshop you’ll learn how to craft mockups that follow traditional responsive guidelines. The author Dan Rose covers his Photoshop workflow explaining how you should approach responsive design and how it should affect your entire process.
Starting from wireframing all the way to a polished mockup you’ll need to consider the responsive tendencies of every layout. And since most designers work with Photoshop I’d argue this book is one of the best to start with.
Jump Start Sketch
Mac users have been fleeing to Sketch as a cheaper alternative to Photoshop. This program offers tools for vector & raster images along with prototyping workflows between different mockups.
And the best way to get started is reading Jump Start Sketch by Daniel Schwarz.
This 150-page book published by SitePoint is the most detailed introduction to Sketch ever written. You’ll comfortably walk away with a strong understanding of Sketch’s tools, workflows, and best practices for design.
The best way to learn anything is through repetition and study. This book can help you skip over the early learning phase to teach you all the basics you’ll need to eventually master Sketch.
Jon Duckett’s well-known series of books cover everything you’d ever want for frontend development. This may not seem like a design topic. But very few web designers just work in Photoshop anymore.
It’s crucial to at least know the basics of HTML/CSS. If possible you should push into JS/jQuery & Sass to understand how to create browser prototypes and to know what’s really possible in web design.
That’s what this web design book pack offers with both of Jon Ducket’s intro-to-coding books. These are super simple and written by a designer so the language is easy to follow.
You don’t need to learn programming to be a great web designer. But HTML markup isn’t programming, nor is styling with CSS. And in the modern era it’s a good idea to have at least some foundational knowledge of code standards.
Don’t Make Me Think
This book is perhaps the very first book any aspiring web designer should read. Don’t Make Me Think was first published in 2000 so you might imagine it’d be out of date by now. Yet here we are almost two decades later and this book is even more relevant than ever before!
So many modern designers understand the importance of UX design. This goes beyond the pretty graphics and color schemes to create interfaces that actually work and solve user problems.
Everything in this book has its anchor in the way people browse the web. And while design techniques have advanced rapidly in the past few years, I’d argue that user behaviors are almost identical.
After reading this book you’ll be armed with all the information you could ever need to start creating usable websites. The author Steve Krug is a fun guy & usability expert so his writing style is both highly accurate and incredibly amusing.
The Non-Designer’s Design Book
In The Non-Designer’s Design Book you’ll learn everything about design from the perspective of a typical person with no creative background. Author Robin Williams(unrelated) has been teaching design for over 20 years and she knows a thing or two about making websites.
Through these lessons you’ll learn how to craft designs with color and typography that mesh with your goals. Every project has a certain need and your job is to create a website that fills that need.
Anyone can learn to design websites and Robin’s book is proof of that. But getting started can always be the most daunting step.
With this book by your side you’ll have everything you need to dive into the deep unending ocean of web design.
Responsive Web Design
Ethan Marcotte first published Responsive Web Design in 2011 on the forefront of a revolution. This was the start of a major shift in how people design websites and how they’re supported across all devices.
If you’re hoping to learn more about responsive design then this is the book to read.
It covers the entire philosophy start-to-finish with Ethan’s techniques for building quality responsive layouts.
Note this book is much more code-oriented than design-oriented so it does help if you already know a bit of CSS. But the philosophies discussed in this book are still used in modern web design making them incredibly valuable for every web designer.
Web Designer’s Idea Book
A handful of these books have been published in recent years and the Web Designer’s Idea Book is one of the coolest new coffee table books for designers.
Inside you’ll find 600+ examples of websites organized by style, type, and design trends. Granted this feels incredibly similar to online inspiration galleries where you can browse websites and find the latest trends online.
But these books have been curated specifically covering the latest trends and the most interesting designs you can find. If you’re open to checking it out then I highly recommend grabbing the newest version to keep it around for ideas & inspiration.
Learning Web Design
Despite the name of this book claiming it covers “design” this is much more like an intro tech manual for beginners. Learning Web Design starts at the very beginning explaining what a website is, how it works, and how it’s structured in the browser.
From there you’ll learn about doctypes and HTML/CSS to understand how these languages affect the webpage.
This book is incredibly simple and it’s one of the best introductions for designers who have no technical knowledge. Absolutely anyone could read this book and come away with a deeper level of web knowledge.
Plus this book measures a solid 600+ pages so you know you’re getting a quality resource.
Learning Responsive Web Design: A Beginner’s Guide
Clarissa Peterson follows with a similar book on a similar yet much more detailed topic. Learning Responsive Web Design: A Beginner’s Guide is a 400+ page resource guide for anyone new to responsive design.
This book looks into the why of responsive design explaining what problem(s) it solves and how responsive design works in the browser using CSS media queries. But most chapters cover responsive techniques for handling large blocks of content, images, video media, and other standard stuff you find on websites.
You’ll find a lot of technical stuff in this book. It really does feel like it’s made for technical information and for designers who want to code.
But if you’re looking for a detailed breakdown of responsive design including workflows & common trends then this book is for you.
Content Strategy for the Web
The web is primarily made of content. This means any good website needs good copy and Content Strategy for the Web is the book to read on this subject.
It’s a pretty short title with 190 pages but they’re full of valuable tips for creating memorable content that lasts. Many chapters cover the business values of content and how these values apply to certain websites.
But you’ll also learn how to study your existing content & how to edit out the junk. Slim writing is often good writing but this can differ based on what type of site you run.
I absolutely recommend grabbing this book if you work on copy for websites and need a leg up. It’s also great for business owners who want to create their own site from scratch.
Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook
Every web designer is really a UX designer. The process of creating a website is really about creating an interface that works and looks good.
In Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook you’ll learn how to sketch wireframes that sell a website and its behaviors. The book does feature tips & tricks for sketching wireframes, but it also has detailed exercises you can follow to improve your sketching habits.
Each chapter is full of practical exercises with visuals to help you along the way. If there’s any book you should buy to study wireframing it’s this one.
Web Standards Solutions
The W3C is the web body controlling how web elements are rendered and how designers need to create websites. But the W3C’s website is far too dense for any sane human to crawl through.
And that’s where Dan Cederholm’s Web Standards Solutions comes into play.
This fantastic book covers typical “best practices” for creating websites following W3C standards. It’s 300 pages long and packed with specific advice on typical web standards for lists, headings, blockquotes, tables, and so much more.
I absolutely recommend this book for anyone looking to build their own websites. You’ll need to learn HTML/CSS first but you won’t need to be an expert to get value from this title.
Mastering Responsive Web Design
A follow-up to many other responsive design books is Mastering Responsive Web Design by Ricardo Zea. This 330+ page book delves deep into the world of CSS3 and structuring a website layout.
You should already have some interest in web development before picking up this book. It is much like a deep dive into responsive design going beyond the basics of HTML/CSS into more complex ideas on CSS3 media queries and browser rendering engines.
But if you consider yourself a web designer+developer then you’ll want to master these responsive techniques.
The Elements of User Experience
The Elements of User Experience offers a deeper look into UX as a whole. The life of a UX designer is complex and it’s a detailed industry. Jesse James Garrett breaks down the fundamentals in this book made for newbie designers just starting on their journey.
Jesse tackles UX from all angles including general usability, interface concepts, brand identity, and information architecture. You’ll learn how to design content that’s easy to read and how to keep people browsing on your site for longer.
There are no catch-all solutions to every UX problem. But once you learn how to think like a UX designer you’ll have a much easier time creating websites that just work.
Designing with Web Standards
Jeffrey Zeldman is a pioneer in the web standards world and he’s been involved as a designer/developer dating back to the 1990s.
Designing with Web Standards is a 430-page look into web standards authored by Jeffrey and Ethan Marcotte(author of Responsive Web Design).
Both of these guys have long wrap sheets of skilled projects that prove their authoritative knowledgebase.
This book covers a lot of technical stuff including doctypes and proper HTML coding standards. But you’ll also learn about progressive enhancement, responsive design tips, and how to craft non-discriminatory websites that support all browsers.
Bulletproof Web Design
One other amazing book written by Dan Cederholm is Bulletproof Web Design. Currently in its 2nd edition, this massive tome of design covers specific page elements and how you should think about them in your projects.
Chapters range from typography to navigation to main content areas. Most chapters talk about features of every website so you’ll find some great universal information here.
Dan is the founder of Dribbble and has built many other valuable projects for designers. His work is widely known and respected in the design community so if you decide to read through this book you can rest assured knowing the advice is sound.
Above the Fold
Most ideals in web design spurred from traditional graphic design. In Above the Fold you’ll learn about clear graphic design tips and how they apply to the web.
Grids, typography, white space, contrast, all of these properties come from the graphic design world long before the web exited. But learning to apply these properties on the web can be tough. And that’s exactly what you’ll learn by reading Above The Fold.
Through exercises you’ll learn how to plan & wireframe new projects, how to design completed mockups, and how to test your websites for usability flaws & optimization.
If all the other books in this list seem a bit too “simple” then Above The Fold will prove useful. It’s made for designers who already design websites but want some advanced tips from traditional design aesthetics.
This list should offer more than enough resources to get yous tarted in web design. There is no single perfect book since everyone comes from a different background. But I do think the best starting point is Don’t Make Me Think since it covers such crucial information for designers.
But you cannot go wrong with any of these titles and I recommend them all for aspiring web designers.