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Review of HTML5 for Web Designers by

HTML5 for Web Designers

by Jeremy Keith

I am very excited for HTML5. My experience with web design began in March 2004. I was young(er than I am now), and I decided to make a personal website on GeoCities. It was a gaudy affair that reflected my lack of design skills and made use of notorious elements like marquee. In the years that followed, I learned about web standards and accessibility. Now my websites still reflect a lack of design skills, but at least they're accessible! So I'm happy that HTML5's specifications are being developed with accessibility and web standards in mind, as well as a healthy dose of realism when it comes to browser implementation. We're never going to get a pure and perfect Web. Let's see how close we can come though.

Jeremy Keith is also excited for HTML5, and that excitement is evident in HTML5 for Web Designers. From page 1 to page 85, Keith succinctly communicates the good, the bad, and the unfortunate about the HTML5 specification. He touches on almost every important part of HTML5, including what may be the most pertinent question right now: can we use HTML5 today? (The answer is yes. I am using it on my site.)

Almost every review I've read comments on this book's length. Its length is a selling point, as the A Book Apart website advertises it, and it is also a weakness. Owing to the book's brevity, I can easily review each chapter, and then I'll conclude with an explanation of why, on balance, the quality in these pages truly does exceed their quantity.

The first chapter is the "brief history of markup" chapter that seems obligatory for every book on HTML. Every author gets to put his or her spin on the rise of the Web, the browser wars, the arrival of AJAX and Web 2.0, etc. That's not a bad thing, and for those of us who are familiar with that history, it is always good to review. When discussing HTML5, a good knowledge of where we have been is essential. HTML5 is an attempt to create a markup language for the Web that puts our past behind us while embracing the legacy it has left. Hence, in designing HTML5, WHATWG wants to curtail future "browser wars" by involving browser developers in the process. At the same time, we can't just ignore what we already have in HTML 4.01. It's a delicate balancing act, and the opening chapter reminds us of the challenges involved.

In chapter 2, "The Design of HTML5," Keith focuses on how HTML5 differs from HTML 4.01, XHTML 1, and XHTML 2. He throws out a lot of the catchphrases making the rounds in the development community ("pave the cowpaths"). Aside from that, the changes he notes are fascinating examples of immediate relevance to web designers, e.g., the irrelevance of doctypes, the new rules regarding the anchor element, and the hooks into JavaScript APIs. That last one is really cool, because it is the change about which I've heard the last. And then Keith admits that these are "completely over [his:] head," so he won't be covering him! Not that I blame him. They sound over my head as well.

Chapter 3, "Rich Media," covers three new elements in HTML5 that are making waves: <canvas>, <audio>, and <video>. Keith looks at each in turn, exploring the advantages, disadvantages, and state of implementation with major browsers. Since my web design seldom involves multimedia, I haven't tried out these elements for myself. It's great to see demonstrations like Detexify, which shows off the power of <canvas>. I like that Keith addresses the shortcomings of the implementations of these elements thus far, e.g., <audio>'s inconsistent format support. HTML5 for Web Designers is effusive about HTML5 but also realistic.

I was really looking forward to the chapter on "Web Forms 2.0." Indeed, this was one of the reasons I bought the book. I haven't worked with forms in HTML5 yet, and the improvements to form controls look pretty cool. Keith once again does an adequate job summarizing the changes to forms. I was somehow expecting . . . more, so chapter 4 left me feeling underwhelmed. However, I think this is the result of a misunderstanding on my part about what HTML5 offers for forms rather than a flaw in this book.

The last two chapters, "Semantics" and "Using HTML5 Today," are similar in content and significance, so I will address them together. These chapters are perhaps the most important in the book, but they are also the most redundant. There are many great online resources on HTML5 already; indeed, Keith links to a lot of them, including the fantastic HTML5 Doctor. So what Keith does in these chapters is little more than reiteration of what I've already read. I learned a few new things, but most of the content in these chapters is covered in more depth on sites like HTML5 Doctor.

That is the trade-off to having a brief book. HTML5 for Web Designers is just a summary of what HTML5 offers. It doesn't claim to be anything more, and for designers who are unfamiliar with HTML5, this will probably be enough. As someone familiar with some of HTML5 and unclear on other parts, I found this book useful but not quite as enlightening as I had hoped.

Should you buy it? You can definitely learn everything you'd learn from this book elsewhere, and perhaps just as quickly, for free. That being said, sometimes it is useful to have a reference book nearby. HTML5 for Web Designers is a beautifully-designed reference book, and it obviously won't take up much shelf space. Keith's writing is clear and entertaining. So the book's quality ultimately comes down to your expectations. Be realistic about what you will get from an 85-page book, and you will find this satisfactory.


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