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Fresh Styles for Web Designers: Eye Candy from the Underground Paperback – August 22, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Wow, this is a fun book. If you spend a lot of time on Web design and suffer occasional burnout, Fresh Styles is the inspiration booster shot you need to get you back to the keyboard to whip up something new. Perhaps you'd like to try "gothic organic" or "pixelated punk"? Author Curt Cloninger, who's written for the Web developer forum Alistapart.com, defines 10 "underground" Web styles using case studies of several Web sites, and discovers what makes them not just cutting edge but marketable, too. These site designs not only mimic print design, but embrace the medium of the Web with all its flaws (browser incompatibilities, sluggish download times, varying viewer operating systems, and screen resolutions).

All 10 of the design styles discussed in this book sprang from a dissatisfaction with the status quo, a love of the Web as a medium, and a passion for evocative, communicative design.

With such fun chapters as "1950s Hello Kitty Style" and "Paper Bag Style," hundreds of screenshots, and techniques for achieving these looks, Fresh Styles isn't just an inspiring kick in the pants but a cookbook/resource as well. Not everything here conforms to usability wisdom; for example, pages may not bookmark because they're in designer-defined pop-up windows or the entire site is one big Flash file. But the author encourages readers to go beyond the universally practical: "Go ahead and fiddle while Rome burns."

There are ideas here you may never have thought of using. The 8-bit gifs in the "SuperTiny SimCity Style" are the opposite of most designers' layered Photoshop creations. A link points to the perfect Web tutorial on how to get them right. For the "Lo-Fi Grunge Style," think Raygun, complete with TV scan-line effects and "that smudged, misprinted look." A sidebar shows how to mimic a noisy TV signal by placing scan-line patterns on their own Photoshop layer.

Grooviness is what this book is all about: groovy narrative, groovy illustrations, and a groovy layout by Carlos Segura. It's got a good vibe that makes you think that the future of the Web may not be so bleak after all. --Angelynn Grant

From the Back Cover

In a light and friendly voice, the author introduces the reader to new ways of styling websites. With specific examples for each of ten categories, he provides a wealth of techniques for the designer who wishes to apply these approaches in their own work. The styles are broken down into ten categories, which are:


* Gothic Organic School
* Wireframe Icon School
* Lo-fi Grunge School
* Paper Bag School
* Mondrian Poster School
* Pixelated Punk Rock School
* 1950's Hello Kitty School
* HTMinimaLism School
* DraftingTable/Instruction Manual School

Super Tiny SimCity School Further explorations in the book help designers determine which style choices would be most appropriate when changing the look of their own sites.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Waite Group Press (August 22, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0735710740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0735710740
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,277,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Curt Cloninger is a writer, artist, and Associate Professor of New Media at the University of North Carolina Asheville. He has been published on a wide range of topics, including new media and internet art, installation and performance art, experimental graphic design, popular music, network culture, and continental philosophy. Recent topics have included glitch art, the "new aesthetic," electronic voice phenomenon, bodily affect, object oriented ontology, process philosophy, and artistic lying. His articles have appeared in Intelligent Agent, Mute, Paste, Tekka, Rhizome Digest, A List Apart, and on ABC World News.

His own art uses an array of media combinations to undermine language as a system of meaning in order to reveal it as an embodied force in the world. His art work has been featured in the New York Times and at festivals and galleries from Korea to Brazil. Exhibition venues include Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Granoff Center for The Creative Arts (Brown University), Digital Art Museum [DAM] (Berlin), Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (Chicago), Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, and the internet. He is the recipient of several grants and awards, most recently a grant from National Endowment for the Arts (via Turbulence.org).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
Fresh Styles is another beautifully designed book from New Riders. It is easy to flip through, fun to read, and generously illustrated in full color. Curt Cloninger presents a convincing case for abandoning the current trend toward cookie cutter web sites, and he provides plenty of examples for inspiration. He briefly examines the reasons for the development of these rules and regulations in web design and then points out the pitfalls of adhering too closely to any of them. Cloninger thoroughly explores 10 styles, giving several unique examples for each one, and going into it's purpose, history, and function. Yes, he gives his 10 "fresh style" silly names but it's all in good fun and it works for the purpose of the book.
I find this book extremely useful and it is one that I will keep out of a small selection of web reference books. This isn't a recipe book and although it does contain technical advice, there are few code samples. Cloninger isn't giving out style templates that the reader is meant to copy. On the contrary, his intention is to examine the various styles and give us some insight into how they developed, the reason they were used for that particular project, and what did and didn't work in their implementation. Using this approach, he succeeds in turning them into flexible templates that are a springboard for new ideas and "fresh styles" of your own.
It has been mentioned that some of the websites used in the book no longer exist or have changed dramatically. This is not a problem and does not detract from it's value or usefulness, since all of the necessary examples are printed in the book. It simply illustrates one of the author's major points, that the web is in a constant state of flux and transformation, and will remain in that state.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Satya Witoelar on November 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
A very good inspiration source. A very good design reference.

Great visuals, great text.
A whole lot of screenshots of cool websites saved my time on surfing. But rather than just looking at hip designs and trying to figure them myself, half of the text in Fresh Styles guided me through each design, with highly readable explanations, so I know how to take advantage of them in the correct manner. The other half of the text are just the author's snipes at web usability theorists. He shouldn't have worried that much about being different to other web theorists, because usability is not a religion, I can buy both Jakob Nielsen's book and Curt Cloninger's book. No problem.
Curt Cloninger
The author may not be a world-class web designer (his personal website is a copycat of one of his favorite websites, while his commercial website is not fresh at all) and the sample websites do not represent the whole web (some are just his friends' unpublished mockups), but the courage to dissect and summarize the hippest styles into 10 categories is truly remarkable and useful.
Buy the book. Read the book. But apply as necessary.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Andrew B. King on October 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
A new group of cutting-edge Web designers are changing the face of the Web, embracing its quirks. Like a new-age digital art historian, Curt Cloninger traces the influences of past masters on the current masters of Web design. Cookie-cutter corporate conformity is out. Morphing the masters is in.
Cloninger covers 10 new underground Web design styles, with names like SuperTiny SimCity, Mondrian Poster, and HTMinimaLism. He traces the roots of these styles to the past. He shows current masters of each style, how to perform some of these techniques, and which commerce projects apply for each style. After reading this book, you'll expand your design vocabulary.
The idea is to create a compelling experience through great design. Branding matters when selling products. The "usability legalists" say that "an elegant design that is unusable will fail." Cloninger agrees but proposes this corollary: "a perfectly usable site which lacks elegant and appropriate design style will fail." He says that the Jakob Nielsenizing of the Web, avoiding "bad usability" at all costs, has fostered an entire generation of safe, bland, copycat Web sites that "are about as engaging as a book on usability testing methodologies."
Cloninger is out to shake things up. He says that to succeed a site must have a "focused narrative voice, an angle, a plan, a consistent point of view to unify its disparate elements and give it a cohesive personality." To Cloninger, creative visual design is an integral part of this site-building process. Inbred conservative copycat design is boring, so Cloninger explores the personal sites of today's leading Web designers. What's wonderful is the way he classifies these styles, relating the present design style to the past with great insight and humor. Roll over Mondrian, tell Kandinsky the news.
I really enjoyed this book. Highly recommended.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Eric Oehler on October 5, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'll start by saying that some of the sites in the book are absolutely beautiful. Some of them are cutting-edge, fresh, and as Cloninger advocates, fun.
But for a lot of them, "fun" turns to "frustrating" mind-bogglingly quickly. Several of the sites are electronic works of art that have incomprehensible interfaces and infuriating functionality.
I realize the emphasis of this book is sort of the anti-Neilsen, but there is, and has to be, a line of practicality in web design that just shouldn't be crossed. A beautiful website is not something that someone can hang on a wall, it's something a user is supposed to use. Neilsen gets too draconian in one direction, and Cloninger goes too far in the other. Reality is somewhere in between.
Several of the sites detailed, however, don't suffer from these problems. The "Mondrian" and "HMLMinimalist" sections are almost Neilsen-ite in their simplicity. The problem lies in some of the recommendations that Cloninger makes on how to execute such a site - the code he puts forth is often a bit sketchy and not always standards-compatible (use a new standards-complaint browser, you get a mess. Use and old browser, you get a mess).
Overall, the book is somewhat useful, somewhat not. As inspirational material, it's grand. The sites are beautiful and complex. As a "how-to" manual, the advice given is often less-than-good. Couple this book with "Don't Make Me Think" and the ORA book on CSS and you will have a much better chance of developing a workable, elegant site.
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