Review of The Web Designer’s Idea Book II

I have to admit, the idea of a book that aims to inspire web designers with example websites seemed a little repetitive to me when I first thought about it.

After all, there are dozens of excellent galleries out there online that we can access for free, that are updated on a daily or at least weekly basis.

Could a book compete with that? Or would it just be filled with the same sites we’ve all seen in every gallery and design roundup out there.

As someone who studies design galleries and roundups on an almost daily basis, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the designs included in The Web Designer’s Idea Book, Volume 2, by Patrick McNeil (who writes a monthly column for .net magazine and runs Design Meltdown), were not ones I remember seeing previously.

In fact, most of the designs in the book are fresh and new, and haven’t made the usual rounds of galleries and showcases.

Now, of course, just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s going to be useful. It takes a combination of new and well-organized to stand out.

And The Web Designer’s Idea Book really comes through in that respect, too. It takes the best methods of organizing content from a variety of online galleries and combines them to create what could be the most well-thought-out source of design inspiration available.

The book starts with a brief section on how to use inspiration to create a unique design that doesn’t copy any one existing design, but instead pulls elements from a number of sites to create something better than the sum of its parts. It’s a useful section for anyone, whether they’re a new designer or more established, especially since it uses a real-world example.

From there, the book is broken down into a few sections: Basic Principles of Design, Sites by Type, Sites by Design Elements, Sites by Styles and Themes, Sites by Structural Styles, and Sites by Structural Elements. Each section includes a number of chapters that cover individual elements, with some commentary on some of the examples.

Within in the Basic Principles of Design section, there are chapters on Emphasis, Contrast, Balance, Alignment, Repetition, and Flow. Examples include The Urban Mama, Tunnel 7 and Bryan Connor, among dozens of others. Some of the designs you’ll surely recognize, but there are plenty you probably won’t.

From there, the book moves on to Sites by Type. Here it covers websites by industry and purpose, including iPhone Applications, Bands, Events, Travel and Tourism, Portfolios, Real Estate, and Coming Soon pages.

In some chapters, there are “Notes from a Developer” sections that give tips on web design from a developer’s point of view. It’s sections like these that add a lot of value to the book that you won’t get with the majority of online galleries.

The Design Elements section is great if you’re stuck on one particular part of your design. This section does feel the most random of any in the book, though.

While the information and examples are all great, the choices for chapters feel very disconnected: The Pitch, Lighting, iPhone as Flourish, Social Media Links, Icons, Typographic, and Photographic Backgrounds. Again, the examples here are great, but there just doesn’t feel like much of a theme running through the chosen topics.

The next section pulls things back together and is very focused. Here, designs are covered by style and theme. While it’s not the most comprehensive collection of design styles, it does cover some of the most commonly seen (Ultra Clean, Minimali, Solid Colors, and Type-Focused) and some of the most popular in recent years (Sketchy, Collage, Illustrated, Fabric, and Wood).

Some examples in this chapter include Pro Theme Design (Ultra Clean), Studio Z Films (Modern), Saizen Media (Illustrated), and Kinetic Technology Group (Wood).

The second-to-last section has some of the most visually interesting design examples. The Structural Style section has chapters on Atypical Navigation, Atypical Layouts, Pseudo-Flash (sites using JavaScript to create Flash-like effects), Horizontal Scrolling, and One-Page sites. If you’re looking to create something a bit different, turn to this section first.


The final section in the book covers Structural Elements. This is where you’ll find examples of things like Tabs, Buttons, Form Elements, “Helpful Homepages”, “Functional Footers”, Homepage Slide Shows, and 404 Pages. Examples here include Fhoke, Panda Themes, and Gieves and Hawkes. This is a great spot to look if you need inspiration for just a specific part of a site design.

As already mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised by the content of The Web Designer’s Idea Book II. It’s not a book I would have typically picked up off a shelf, with the notion that buying a book about web design inspiration just feels a bit odd. But there’s enough value-added information in the book that it stands out from free online galleries and showcases.

It’s not just a book that shows you pretty pictures, but actually shows you how to use what you’re seeing to create your own unique designs without directly copying anything.

Be sure to check out Volume 1 as well, for more great inspiration. Links for purchase are included on the The Web Designer’s Idea Book website, including the link to Amazon (where it sells for less than $20, compared to the usual $30 cover price).

Reviewed exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman

Have you checked out the book? What are your thoughts? Feel free to share below…

  • Mia Lazar

    $20 for books of ideas that is so cheap, BTW looks good.

    • Childmonster

      Agree with you :)

  • David Radovanovic

    I just ordered it via Amazon! I’ll fill you guys in on my review.

  • Coleen

    I have both of Patrick McNeil’s books and have poured over them and over them… and over them. :) I especially like the second book and the developer notes – lots of great nuggets in there.

    One of the advantages of the books is that you can get away from your screen and ponder somewhere – turn pages, put stickies in for bookmarks, maybe make some actual hand-drawn sketches, etc. Something about that tactile, physical stuff seems to help with creative juices.

    And when you’re sitting in offices waiting for appointments, as I have been lately with a hubby who’s back has needed much chiropractic care, these books have been the perfect way to get in some more “work time” while I dream up a new site design for my own business. ;)

  • andry

    $ 20 great price

  • Scott

    I can’t wait to get this. I’ve known about for a while now and the first one is great so I wouldn’t expect anything different from this one.

    • Walter

      It really is, I loved both books :)

  • Rob T

    I ordered this the other day on Amazon. Looking forward to its arrival.

  • jeremy

    I have the first one and look through it daily.. I am going to have to go pick this one up

  • уеб дизайн

    Unfortunately I cant find it here in Bulgaria. May be I’ll try to buy it somewhere online. Great writing as usual. :)

  • Patrick McNeil

    Cameron, thanks so much for the great review! It is fantastic to hear your feedback. I really appreciate that you took the time to dig into the book for a through review.

    You actually hit on a real key point for the book. I, like you, stay very current on what is going on in many of the web design galleries. A major focus for the books is to ensure I don’t just repeat the same content. This means that while I do include some popular content (as it is indicative of current trends and patterns) I do focus on lesser known sites and samples as fresh material always feels better. You don’t me, after all, to update you as to the design changes on major sites we see every day!

    Thanks again,

  • Kayan Mott

    Coleen you make a great point that when you own the book you can study it outside of the “computer cave!” Definitely sounds like a good read to pick up. Cameron, I sincerely appreciate the thorough review – keep it up!

  • Ben Stokes

    Not to sure on books for inspiration – I think sites like the web design depot do the job perfectly well – but I do hope the book takes off :)