Smashing Book 6: New Frontiers in Web Design Review

The sixth installment of the famous Smashing Book is here! Smashing Book 6: New Frontiers in Web Design is my first from the series.

In case you’re not familiar with the Smashing Book series: the contents of a Smashing Book isn’t just a single topic. This particular book covers 10 different topics, each written by an expert in that field. These topics are often in-depth, but not too long. A perfect format to learn, I’d say.

Unpacking and seeing the book for the first time was a treat. The fabric cover is debossed with gold-coloured lettering and a beautiful illustration. It’s firm, the fabric gives it a nice touch and it looks gorgeous. Attached to the cover is a gold-coloured ribbon page marker which is a welcoming luxury.

After staring at the cover for a good couple of minutes, I open the book. No surprises here: it’s what you would expect from Smashing Magazine. Reading the book’s content is a breeze because legibility and readability are both done well.

There’s a good amount of pages; over 500! Pages of what, you ask?

“Making Design Systems Work in the Real World” by Laura Elizabeth

In this chapter, Laura shares strategies to introduce a design system and how to keep it healthy. Laura lists various challenges and how to address those: selling the investment to stakeholders, inventory real problems and convince the team how a design system helps, verifying whether the system achieves it’s goals, and keeping it alive and healthy.

“Accessibility in Times of Single-Page Apps” by Marcy Sutton

Marcy touches common accessibility practices for Single-Page Apps. Because SPAs are single pages and heavy on JavaScript, it requires extra attention to make sure the app is accessible. This is hard. Marcy breaks down some common issues and demonstrates how to solve them.

“Production-Ready CSS Grid Layouts” by Rachel Andrew

Are you not using CSS Grid because of browser support? Chances are that might change after reading this. Rachel walks us through the CSS Grid specification, or at least the bits that could break in older browsers, and shows us how to fix them. The addressed properties and values are explained so well it’s very likely you will learn way more than just improving browser support.

“A Strategy Guide to CSS Custom Properties” by Mike Riethmuller

Mike starts with an introduction to custom properties followed by various strategies to use them to the fullest, without overusing them. It made me realise that, much like CSS, it’s easy to get started but hard to get right.

“Building an Advanced Service Worker” by Lyza Gardner

The title sums it up perfectly. It’s a step-to-step guide to building a Service Worker with various features. After reading Lyza’s guide I’m now quite confident about what a Service Worker is, what they do and how I would build a Service Worker script even though I never did.

“A Guide to Loading Assets on the Web” by Yoav Weiss

This piece was something else. Yoav covers performance throughout the entire stack, starting with the DNS lookup and ending with caching using Service Workers. It’s a very thorough piece. It’s a long read, but so worth it.

“On Designing Conversations” by Adrian Zumbrunnen

Adrian shares thoughts and tips on chat bots. These scripted conversations can feel very real. In fact, many of my chats with real people from service desks feel way more scripted than the examples in this chapter.

“UX Design of Chatbots and Virtual Assistants” by Greg Nudelman

This piece is a nice follow-up of the previous chapter. Greg continues with more thoughts on conversational interfaces and applies them to virtual assistants. We also learn the workings of various assistants and how to extend their vocabulary.

“Crafting Experiences for AR/VR/XR” by Ada Rose Cannon

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality comes with a new set of UX challenges. Ada covers some of them, like cues for 3D, sound, and movement. These challenges are quite interesting to think about.

“Bringing Personality Back to the Web” by Vitaly Friedman

Last but not least, Vitaly argues to bring personality back to the web with a vast set of examples. Examples so stunning, it’s hard to disagree. Quite inspiring indeed.

Verdict

Before rushing to my verdict, I have to mention I’m the worst reader. I find it hard to focus and lose interest quickly. Just the presence of someone in the same room is enough to get distracted. It generally takes months to finish a single book simply because something else grabs my attention.

But not this book. I read most chapters in a single run, but limited myself to do one chapter a day. Every day I was eager to read. This is thanks to the bite-sized chapters, the ease of reading but most of all: the great content. The Smashing Book must be a ‘walk in the park’ for seasoned readers.

Looking back at what I’ve learned, the book is densely packed with a lot of information for designers and developers. And in the event some questions remain unanswered or you wish to dive in deeper: there are a lot of references throughout the book for further reading.

Do I recommend the book? Yes, most definitely. Despite that the design chapters just weren’t for me, I think it’s well worth the price.

Get the book on smashingmagazine.com

Thanks to Smashing Magazine for giving me this book in exchange for a review, and the patience for me to finish both. Smashing Magazine didn’t pay me to write this review, unfortunately.