Book Review: HTML5 For Web Designers

09 Jul 2010


HTML5 For Web Designers by Jeremy Keith

Published by: A Book Apart

Available From: A Book Apart

ISBN: 978-0-9844425-0-8

I was super excited yesterday when I walked by my mailbox at work to see a small package in it – having completely forgot that I had ordered my copy of HTML5 For Web Designers by Jeremy Keith a while ago.  I had heard it was a nice, easy fun read and I wasn’t disappointed.  In fact, about 6pm last night I sat down to read it and had read it in full by about 7pm!

Wait! Stop! Let’s define HTML5 for a minute because it’s turned into a word that means different things to different people.  In Keith’s book, he’s referring to the W3C Specification that defines the next generation of the HTML mark-up language.  He isn’t referring to the buzz word HTML5 that includes CSS3, ECMAScript 5, Web Workers, and all that other stuff that sometimes gets lumped into HTML5. <div style="width: 75%; border: #ddd 1px dotted; padding: 5px;">

Topics Covered

  • The road from XHTML to HTML5
  • Design principles of HTML5
  • Syntax: marking it up your way
  • Web Forms 2.0—sliders and spinners and color pickers, oh, my!
  • Canvas: drawing with code
  • Audio and video
  • Semantics and extensibility: microformats and boiling the ocean
  • New and changed HTML elements
  • New structure elements
  • New content models
  • ARIA, styling, and validation
  • Using HTML5 today—tactics and strategy
  • Shiny new toys: JavaScript APIs
  • Feature detection
  • The future of HTML5

I’ve always thought a little history is important to set the stage, and he does that by explaining where HTML5 came from, why XHTML 2.0 didn’t work, the difference between HTML5 and HTML 5 from the WHATWG.  Heck, I’ve been around the web world for over 10 years, and I’ll say I learned quite a bit and feel like I understand some of the challenges of HTML5 more now.  What’s also great is that he explains the design principals of HTML5.  There’s a couple of places where you may ask yourself why the heck they did something, and the principals help to clear it up.

The book did have a few minor let downs for me – the first was one I should have been able to glean from the title, but there is only one mention of the new JavaScript functionality in HTML5, and the mention is basically, that as a designer Keith doesn’t use many APIs, and that the new ones are “over my head.”

Instead of going deep into code, the book does a great job of explaining what the new features of HTML5 are.  There’s a section on Rich Media where he covers Canvas, <audio> and <video>, SVG and so forth.  And there’s some really good nuggets of info in there, for example the concept of boolean attributes.  Boolean attributes mean that no matter their value, the fact that they’re in there triggers the property, for example boolAttr=”true” is exactly the same as boolAttr=”false”!  That may take some getting used to.  He also introduces Web Forms and the new HTML tags that are added along with the semantics that they impose.

My other let down, and again I think this was somewhat intentional is that when referring to browsers, Keith didn’t mention version numbers at all.  In some cases that doesn’t matter, but when he says something like “Internet Explorer doesn’t support HTML5 feature X”, it’s like saying car’s don’t have airbags.  Sure the older ones may not, but the new ones do.  There’s a ton of HTML5 support in Internet Explorer 9, but that doesn’t come across in the book at all.  I know the book was started before we shipped the first of the Platform Previews, but the editing certainly wasn’t.

Keith closes the book trying to answer one of the most commonly asked questions that I think people have today, when can I use it?!  And if I can use it today, how?  Keith answers that question and gives a few best practices for being successful with HTML5 today.  I’ll give you a hint, one of them includes feature detection instead of browser detection!

If you want to understand what HTML5 is, whether you’re a designer or developer, this is a great book for you!  It makes the 1100+ page spec look like something a first grader could read and understand – when in fact it’s the complete opposite!  It’ll be GREAT to share with your coworkers and friends.  Whether you’re an old hat at this, or just getting started, you’ll be able to understand the new concepts and features of HTML5 with ease.  For hard core JavaScript developers, yah, it’s missing that, but I expect to see that in more books soon enough.  But for everyone else, web designers, and web devigners (hybrid developer designers), you’ll find a great resource on HTML5!

With books like this, I can’t wait to see what the guys at A Book Apart have up their sleeves next!