Book Review: Hardboiled Web Design by Andy Clarke

I grabbed the PDF version of “Hardboiled Web Design” by Andy Clarke yesterday (the day it was released) and honestly, it’s the first technology book that has really made me re-consider the way I approach web design. It’s odd that I didn’t want to put it down and felt the need to keep reading. Rarely do I read every word of a technology book cover-to-cover—especially just for fun.

First, I’ll say the design and visual theme of the book is superb. I wish I had waited for the limited edition print version that comes with a bonus poster of the cover art. The fun “Detective Fiction” designs are an original and welcome change from the formulaic layouts I’m accustomed to. There was an obvious amount of time spent on even minor design and layout details and it really shows. Gone are the drab browser screenshots and stick like diagrams that fill most how-to technology books. Instead, everything from the beautifully drawn cover to the detailed full colour examples fit with the theme and just kept me wanting to read more.

But the visual treats are just a nice bonus, the really good stuff is in the content. Andy Clarke takes the concept of Progressive Enhancement and flips it on its head, arguing that:

Instead of starting from the lowest performing browsers, hardboiled means working from the top down and designing for the best browser first. This way we can make the most of everything that more capable browsers and emerging technologies like HTML5 have to offer.

What a novel idea (ha, see what I did there? Detective fiction.. novel… ok, moving on). You might argue that this isn’t anything new, after all graceful degradation already says we should consider accessibility for less capable browsers but as Andy points out the argument goes well beyond simple graceful degradation:

the term graceful degradation, as traditionally applied to visual design, implies that we should compromise.

To hell with being graceful!

The hardboiled approach pushes graceful degradation further and demands that we use our creative talents to design experiences that are responsive and tailored to a browser’s capabilities.

That’s a very boiled down description of Andy’s hardboiled approach and I’m sure I haven’t done him justice. There’s much more to it than just a top-down approach with responsive design. I would consider it required reading for any Web professional, even if you end up disagreeing with the overall approach.

But, even if you disagree with his reasoning, the book is still packed full of useful information. Hardboiled Web Design covers everything a web designer needs to know about Responsive Design, vendor prefixes and web fonts to working with CSS gradients, transforms and animations. The section on media queries and designing to a browsers capabilities were especially eye-opening to me.

Overall I highly recommend reading about the hardboiled approach. If you’re like me it may make you re-think your design priorities and force you to reconsider where you’re focusing your efforts.