Robin Williams,
The Non-Designer's Design Book
(Peachpit, 1994)

No matter whether you're designing a one-page flyer to announce your neighborhood garage sale or a 500-page website, The Non-Designer's Design Book will come in handy. Written by Robin Williams (not the actor), it is subtitled "Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice," a claim that is made a lot, but often ends up being a technical overload, leaving those unfamiliar with design in the dust.

Luckily, Robin Williams hasn't forgotten her audience. In clear examples, she illustrates a host of basic design principles that come together with exercises that allow you to utilize those principles. It's a hands-on approach that only adds to the book's value.

Some have said that this isn't a book for web designers -- more for print artists. Although I can see how it might seem that way, I have to disagree. Even though some of the specific techniques (fonts and emphasis, for example) may not be suitable for a web environment, the basic principles themselves hold true for any type of design.

The Non-Designer's Design Book will teach you those principles. There is another book available, as well, by the same author that goes more in-depth into the web medium, called, aptly, The Non-Designer's Web Design Book, if you are interested.

What's great about this book? A lot, to be succinct. There were three major selling points for me, when I first picked this up a few years ago, and they're still the major points that keep me coming back to the dog-eared copy for reassurance. These, I call the "3 R's."

Williams employs a very calm, fun approach to her writing, as well as disseminating the pertinent information. It's almost as if you don't really realize you're learning these things until it's over and you begin to see what's wrong in the designs you've done before. It changes your eye subtly, all the while keeping a casual style and easy-to-read format.

As I mentioned before, there is a lot that can be taken from this book for every aspect of design. When I'm stumped as to why a certain page doesn't look right, a few minutes of looking through the book will often help me to identify what's off-balance. And once identified, it's easy to repair. If this book gives you nothing else but the language with which to identify problem spots, it's well-worth its price tag.

As if that's not enough, the list of books in the bibliography can lead you directly to your local library or bookstore to find some of the best books out there for typography and design. You can continue on with some of the less-easy-to-read books when this one is through, and find that the others may not have been so hard after all -- you just didn't have the design vocabulary that The Non-Designer's Design Book has now given you.

There are a lot of beginning design books out there, some of them cheaper and more elementary than this one. I even have a couple. And they're fine for someone who knows absolutely nothing, though a more experienced designer (personal or professional) may find them to be tedious once they've absorbed the information.

This isn't the case with The Non-Designer's Design Book. There is the basic information, yes; but it also contains a mental crowbar of sorts that can help you when your mind is stuck, later on down the road. Far from being exclusively for beginners, it contains everything you'll need as your design progresses, for both print and the web.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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