Review of Hardboiled Web Design

The are two books which changed how I think about web design and front-end coding no more than 4-5 years ago.

They are Transcending CSS (Andy Clarke) and The Zen of CSS Design (Dave Shea). They made me think differently about what was possible, even 4-5 years ago and how to think about how I write my code. They taught me how to separate my style from my content so I can easily change the style to suit different formats like mobile and print without having to mess with the content too much.

I’ve waited for this new book for a good few months, however, I’ve needed to read it for much longer. Despite an almost catastrophic Dropbox failure, Andy managed to deliver the book complete and on-time. I ordered the limited edition pack on the day of release (I’m a sucker for a poster…).

Hardboiled Web Design is now the 3rd book to change my way of thinking.

While I have absolutely no knowledge of the underlying theme about private investigators (I’m afraid those books are slightly behind my time…) I understand the principles Andy lays out.

‘Hardboiled’ web design is about never compromising on creating the best work we can for the web. Hardboiled is about challenging assumptions. Hardboiled is never being afraid to push boundaries, break rules or invent new ones. Hardboiled is stripping our markup to the bone to make it more adaptable to whatever the web might throw at it. Hardboiled is not hesitating to make the most of new technologies.

Clarke, Andy: Hardboiled Web Design, p5.

I know of and have used some of the CSS3 covered in the book and have been a fan and advocate of Progressive Enhancement for a while now. Andy turns this on its head by encouraging us to think ‘top-down’, design for best browser first then create a suitable experience for less capable browsers, mobile devices and printers. Andy strongly believes that by thinking in this way, as designers, we should be able to create a fantastic experience for those who can benefit from it and that for those that can’t, well, what they don’t know won’t hurt them. I agree for the most part but I think we should try to encourage people to take advantage of the possibilities, even if it’s a small footnote, or a little message in the footer. However, saying that brings back memories of messages like “Optimised for Microsoft Internet Explorer and screen resolutions of 800×600″… Maybe if we educated our clients, they can then pass that education on without us having to put ugly messages all over their websites.

I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve never been great on reading, my attention span can be limited when there’s not many pictures to look at. I certainly can’t read dry technical books with lines and lines of example code, I fall asleep after about 6 minutes.

Hardboiled is no dry technical manual. Andy’s style of writing draws you in and thanks to Kevin Cornell and Elliot Jay Stocks the cool illustrations will keep even the ADD sufferers among us interested. Andy makes it easy to follow and understand the principles and techniques. Actual examples, snippets and real-life implementations both through example files for the Hardboiled site and links to other, real, websites allow the audience to not only grasp the theory but also see how it will all work in practice. Andy also suggests how best to present these methods to clients who most likely aren’t entirely aware of the possibilities.

I highly recommend the book for any web designer or front-end developer wondering when they should take the plunge with using HTML5 and CSS3 and how best to go about it. I was in that position for a while, and I can tell you that, now I’ve read it, the time is now. The two projects I’m currently working on make good use of both HTML5 and CSS3. Moving forward all my sites will be designed round the principles set out by this book.

Just waiting for my poster to be delivered now…

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  • Nora Brown

    Hi Simon, nice review. I agree this book is a great resource for those who want to start implementing HTML5 and CSS3 now. My reservation, though, is that it may be hard to make a business case (and I find it pretty odd that I of all people am even using the term “business case”) for using some of the CSS3 techniques that can only be seen in Safari and future browsers. I also wrote up a review, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts:

    • Anonymous


      Thanks for your comment.
      It is difficult to make a “business case” for spending the extra time to make things like CSS Animations which do only work in one browser, in general.

      I think the main point is there’s absolutely nothing stopping us switching to and using etc instead of tags, in fact it should be encouraged. Even IE7 will display them correctly by using a display:block; property in your reset CSS.

      What Andy is trying to say is that through working by Progressive Enhancement we’re limiting our creativity to what the older browsers can handle then sticking a few “pretty” bits on top for the others. Yes, this is subjective but the “hardboiled” way is to design to the most capable browsers, then consider whether it still works and delivers the message correctly for less capable ones.
      The hard bit is to educate the clients and explain that this is how awesome your site looks on this browser, this is how it looks for this browsers and why it’s not important that it is the same. This is one reason for delivering HTML mocks. The use of modernizr makes it really quick to deliver the right experience.
      Why would you want to deliver a Safari-like rich experience to IE6? It plain can’t handle it and your time is better spent making a good experience for everyone else than trying to hack an average one for IE6. Not sure how I feel about this, but if every site started delivering basic layouts to IE6 eventually everyone would be forced to upgrade or switch!