HTML5 for Web Designers Review

I waited the full ten days for the shipping of A Book Apart’s first “brief book” HTML5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith. A Book Apart is a joint venture by Jeffery Zeldman, Mandy Brown and Jason Santa Maria dedicated to making short books, 90 pages in this case, for the folks on the front lines creating websites for a living. Because I match this target audience I thought I could weigh in on the book and the direction A Book Apart is taking.

I decided to just get my thoughts out on the book, the scope, depth and the idea of these short focused books.

The Format

The idea of a shorter more digestible book format is a winner for me, but it has its certain trade-offs. I think a book that I could read in just an hour and a half or so has a lot of worth because it is very obtainable for busy people. I generally group web design/development books into either ‘hammock readers’ and ‘desk readers’, where the desk readers are books I have to work my way through lesson by lesson at my computer and hammock readers are those I read here and there in my free time but can take a few weeks reading at leisure. I think HTML5 for Web Designers has to be a part of a new subset. Even with a very short attention span you can set a couple hours and a simple goal of finishing the book while sipping some ice tea and taking it easy and be done before you know it. The book might not have all the examples you want, all the background info you might be curious for, but it gets you the basics and tells you where else you can look if you still need more information. And honestly, the fact that it is in print makes a difference for me, I don’t have he capital for an Ereader and sitting at the computer reading a pdf is a real drag.

For reiteration sake I think the format works, quick, to the point and something I can tackle in a couple hours without loosing focus.

Jeremy Keith

I have read a book by Mr. Keith before, I am actually currently working through his Dom Scripting book to reiterate my knowledge of the DOM and JavaScript to much success. Jeremy has a clear precise and very thorough approach to topics whilst maintaining a dually practical and theoretical viewpoint on the subject. For this book you can tell at times he had to cut himself off a little and leave a few things for further investigation, that being the point of a shorter book however, it seems to have went just fine and he even snuck in at least one bit of “whimsy”, a word that floats around the A Book Apart webpage, that made me laugh. I think they did get the right guy for this book.

The Book, Apart?

Trying to deal with the topic that as is pointed out covers a spec that is 900 full pdf pages in one tiny little book is a daunting premise, but, as the scope is directed at someone just on the design/front-end development end of things it becomes a bit more manageable. Like everyone I have seen a lot of HTML5 hub-ub around the blogosphere and even seeping into the higher traffic spaces like youtube but there were things of which I still had little understanding.  I had read about the semantics of HTML5 spec (of which there is an entire chapter dedicated) in some detail and have been using class names to simulate semantics like article, section, and hgroup for the last year or so. However things like canvas and all its potential are still a little lost on me. Jeremy gave me a little better grounding but it seems like something like canvas really needs its own book. I understand the basic intentions but I would not be sure after reading even how to begin working with it. Jeremy does have a chapter dedicated to using HTML5 today, but, I am not sure after reading this that I am really in any hurry to do anything but play with HTML5 right now. As things solidify towards 2012 and what sounds like the first version of implementation of the language I am sure I will be ready to make the move, but, I wont be using it for client projects until that time, at least, I don’t believe I will.

This book, though brief and at times missing some detail I’d like was high level and written with a standards compliment front-end developer in mind. More importantly has me very excited for HTML to become the norm on the web.

Favorites/Final Thoughts

My two favorite sections of the book were surprisingly the history of HTML section and the semantics section. I am a sucker for history and semantic mark-up so this might lead to a bit of a bias but I feel these areas were well flushed out and really contributed to my understanding of the goals of HTML5. It is not just a new language for the sake of a new language or to kill flash or any such nonsense, it is a new language to improve the internet for all users in many ways.

My last point is on the clarity I am finding in the web world this week and is only half related to my new understanding of HTML5 provided by this book. On Thursday on The Big Web Show I watched Nicole Sullivan explaining that a good stylesheet is made out of many reusable widgets or pieces. So basically, if I have a certain type of arrangement of content I could potentially copy that and move it into another page in a different place on the page and not have to restyle based on its movement. There was a place in the semantics section of Jeremy Keiths book where I got that same idea in my head. HTML5 is working to create documents that are chunks of code that can exist anywhere in a web document and not have to be recoded or restyled. Clearly the Web is moving this way from everything I have been seeing and it is a result of content management systems and a whole host of really smart designers/developers who understand the potential power and flexibility the web STILL has as a medium (plenty of potential is, as of yet, unrealized). Personally the prospect (and practice) of this idea is a thrilling one.

Great job to everyone involved on this book, it was an enlightening experience in many ways and I look forward to more.