Case Study: HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2012 “Justified” competition, in which an esteemed jury identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on specific metrics.
Project brief: Redesign the tech book to create a title that introduces HTML and CSS to an audience who may be intimidated by the style of traditional tech books (and keep it at the same price point as competing titles).
Overview of market: Every day, more people benefit from learning a bit of code—not just those who want to build websites for a career. Designers, bloggers, hobbyists, marketers and all kinds of people who update a company website can all benefit from learning some HTML and CSS. Many people think that the code used to build websites looks difficult to learn, and it doesn’t help that the books that teach HTML and CSS look dull and undigestible.
$24,000 (plus royalties)
This is a book we had wanted to do for several years, and prior to the start of the project, we had collected many sources of inspiration for the design of the title. We studied a range of books that taught subjects from architecture to zoology, as well as infographics from several different eras, and experimented with how we could show code examples on-screen within a lifestyle setting. We also spoke to educators to find out what topics newcomers commonly struggle with, and we spoke to people who had purchased competing books to find out what they found hard to grasp.
The first challenge was getting a publisher to allow us to throw away their traditional templates and redesign the tech book from scratch (plus convincing them of the need for another book on HTML and CSS in what was already a competitive marketplace with established series of books). The publisher also insisted that the title would have to be made available at the same price as competing titles.
Because the topics covered were very broad, the information needed to be edited and presented in a way that would provide enough detail for those who wanted to become professional web developers without putting off those who did not intend to pursue programming as a career. Since the subject can be difficult to grasp at first, we needed to find visual ways to gently introduce readers to high-level concepts. It was also important for us to find a format that would work as a reference book long after the first read-through.
The main strategy was to create something highly visual, and to have it appear as at-home in the graphic design section of a bookstore as it did the computing section. We achieved this by:
- Printing in full color
- Using lots of large infographics to introduce new and complex topics
- Introducing lifestyle photography (shots of computers in design studio settings), rather than just using screenshots for code examples
- Putting a new topic on each page, rather than starting a new topic with two inches to spare on the bottom right-hand corner of a page
- Adding lots of white space
- Color coding different programming languages
We decided to move the writing and editorial process out of Word and work directly within InDesign and Illustrator. We also intended to supplement the printed material with an online companion website for subjects that were better taught via video, and for interesting content beyond the scope of the main title.
Economy: The book has sold far better than the client’s initial expectations. In the first five months it had four print runs (totalling 47,000 copies), with translation rights sold to China and Korea. It has given the publisher a market-leading book from which to build a new series.
People: As we had hoped, the title has gained popularity far beyond the traditional technical book market. Readers have uploaded pictures to Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and their blogs (pretty much unheard-of in the tech book market). Many universities have expressed interest in using it as a text for courses covering a range of subjects, including design, computing, English and journalism. Staff from Adobe, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have initiated contact to discuss the title and offer kind comments about the book.
Culture: Many readers have emailed or tweeted to encourage us to write additional books on other programming topics, and we are keen to look at expanding beyond programming, into other subjects that people struggle to learn. We have also prepared some additional academic study material to accompany the book due the high level of interest from tutors and lecturers.