November 3, 2001

Fresh Styles for Web Designers: Eye Candy from Underground

The most challenging and thoughtful Web design book of 2001, Cloninger's Fresh Styles explores ten distinct approaches to graphic design for the Web. Many of these styles contrast violently: nobody would mistake "Gothic Organic" for "Mondrian Poster", and Cloninger's contribution here is to point out how styles we usually associate with personal sites and artistic experiments also play a useful role in commercial Web design.

Other styles in Cloninger's taxonomy seem more closely related, and in these cases Cloninger makes a second contribution, helping us see core differences masked by surface similarity. It's easy to confound the Mondrian Poster Style of with the HTML Minimalism of 37 Signals or A List Apart, but the two are quite distinct. Cloninger explores both the surface differences (the Mondrian style avoids borders and likes to use the whole screen) and their implications (Mondrian sites depend on lots of color and need lots of pages, while minimalists can load their pages with more copy)

Above all, Cloninger avoids the simple reflex dismissal of different styles as lame, inept, or unusable. Instead, he finds practical uses for styles as different as the K10K "supertiny simcity style" and the Franceschini "Hello Kitty style", treating each with sensitivity and understanding.

This thoughtful survey has evoked far too little discussion; it deserves to be the most widely-discussed book on Web style since Siegel's Killer Web Sites.