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Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott and Theresa Neil

Patterns and Principles for Creating Great Web Interfaces

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Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott and Theresa Neil

Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott and Theresa Neil

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Bottom Line

This is a book of design patterns and some rules for creating user interface design on the web. However, it does not provide code or teach you how to implement these designs. This book is best for web designers and developers who are already familiar with how to implement complex web applications using JavaScript, CSS, and PHP, and want to hone those skill to create applications that are user friendly and encourage more sales or interaction from the users.

If you prefer to work directly with code and build things right out of the book you are reading, then this is not the book for you. There are lots of examples, and full color photos, but no code at all.


  • Full color illustrations and section details
  • All of the images are available on the related Flickr site and there is also a book website for updated information and patterns


  • Just the designs, not the code to create them
  • Some of the images are small and hard to read
  • Discussion of the principles is minimal (1–2 pages)


  • There are six sections in this book and each deals with a different principle for designing web interfaces. The first principle is to make it direct, and the three chapters explain how to engage your users using in page editing (chapter 1), drag and drop (chapter 2), and direct selection (chapter 3).
  • The second principle is to keep it lightweight. This section has one chapter about contextual tools that you can use to improve the usability of your pages.
  • Principle three, stay on the page, is one most users appreciate, and with chapters on overlays (chapter 5), inlays (chapter 6), virtual pages (chapter 7), and process flow (chapter 8), you'll be able to accomplish the principle.
  • Provide an invitation is the fourth principle, and you can do that with static invitations (chapter 9) and dynamic invitations (chapter 10).
  • Principle five is to provide transitions and that is something that is missing on a lot of web pages and applications. Chapter 11 discusses some transitional patterns and chapter 12 explains the purpose of transitions.
  • The final principle, react immediately, is good advice for web pages because users won't wait. This section has a chapter on lookup patterns (chapter 13) and feedback patterns (chapter 14).

Review of Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott and Theresa Neil

The first thing you should understand is that this is a book of design patterns, not code. There are a lot of great suggestions and best practices listed here but you will need to consult other books to find the JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and other code to implement them.

I found this book most useful after I had created an application. I then went to the book and read through the design patterns that I knew I had to make sure I was making the best use of these principles. In the drag and drop chapter, I learned about 90 possible interesting moments, some of which could be affected with CSS and JavaScript to make the application more usable. For example, making the drop-zone to change color when a valid draggable object is dragged over it. That may seem obvious, but by checking out design patterns, I made sure I was creating the best drag and drop application I could.

Some Frustrations With the Book

As I mentioned above, this is not a book of code. As someone who loves to dive in and start building things, it was frustrating to be told to use overlays with “Ajax or Flash” but then have to go and find code to do it somewhere else. This frustration is slightly offset by all the site examples they give, but I would still have to visit a site they mention, find the overlay, and then start code inspections to see how they did it. Of course, the purpose of this book isn't the code, but the patterns themselves. But it was still a frustration for me.

I also wish that the discussions of the principles went into more depth. The two authors are experts in this field, and I would have loved to learn more about why they feel that keeping a page lightweight is so important and more about what makes a page lightweight than about patterns for contextual tools that I can use to create lightweight pages. The tools and patterns in that chapter were very useful, I just wanted more about the principle too.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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