Web Application Design Handbook: Best Practices for Web-Based Software (Interactive Technologies)

Monday, November 2, 2009 |



Web Application Design Handbook: Best Practices for Web-Based Software (Interactive Technologies)

What is a web application? This is not an easy question to answer, and rather than leave the definition as an exercise for the reader (like some of the other web application books available), Fowler and Stanwick devote a chapter to it. Not only do they deliver a matrix that helps you to figure out where your project fits, they also get to the meat: based on the definition, what design differences are there?

Web-based software poses some real challenges, especially if you are coding in straight HTML and HTML/forms (even if you use a little JavaScript on the side). Java applets and Flash pose a slightly different set of challenges. Fowler and Stanwick devote chapters to the critical things you’ll need to know to design a usable application:
  • Browser Framework
  • Data Input: Forms
  • Data Input: Lists
  • Data Retrieval: Search
  • Data Retrieval: Filtering and Browsing
  • Data Output: Reports
  • Data Output: Printed Forms
  • Interacting With Output
And then they get to my favorite part: an excellent reference on what kinds of graphics you can use and when to use which:
  • Designing Graphs and Charts
  • Graph Types Based On Use
  • Designing Diagrams
  • Diagram Types
  • Designing Geographic Maps
  • Interacting With Geographic Maps
  • Types of Maps
After you decide where your project falls on the page-to-application continuum, you’re ready to start on its data architecture, layout, navigation, and presentation details. The first half of the book deals with these issues: how the controls work, the differences between them and standard controls, and when to use which. The book also covers special topics such as searching, filtering, and browsing in a way that makes them approachable and achievable. For those with real-world responsibilities, there are excellent discussions of internationalization and accessibility, as well as techniques for the appropriate use of cascading style sheets.
The single best technique in the book may be Victor Stanwick’s technical tip that helps you check a page’s design for monitors at different resolutions (see page 54). Once I learned this trick, I’m never without my own template and in a recent web application assignment it got a lot of use.
In addition to being an impressive researcher, Susan Fowler is also an expert on the use of graphics in applications. Anyone who’s seen Edward Tufte’s work knows how badly people misuse graphics.
If more designers of web (and standard) applications spend time with this book; we’ll finally start to see clearer graphical presentation. I’ll be delighted when that happens. Until then, make yourself one of those who know: read this book.
If you’re familiar with these authors’ previous books, you’ll find many familiar aspects in this one: down-to-earth descriptions, practical guidelines, impeccable research, worksheets, checklists, and lots of examples from the real world. Weighing in at a hefty 560 pages plus almost 90 pages of appendixes and back matter, it’s much bigger and better than a handbook. I have only one argument with the publishers, and that has to do with layout—worksheets would be better if presented on a single page instead of being broken between two pages. But that’s a minor complaint. I expect to consult this book for quite some time to come.

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