Snook drops SMACSS

One of my web heroes Jonathan Snook has released a great digital book (website, ebook and print versions) about writing better CSS called SMACSS. I have read and re-read this thing several times already:

SMACSS (pronounced “smacks”) is more style guide than rigid framework. There is no library within here for you to download or install. SMACSS is a way to examine your design process and as a way to fit those rigid frameworks into a flexible thought process. It is an attempt to document a consistent approach to site development when using CSS.

Getting Real from 37signals

Getting Real is now available for free as a PDF book. It has been a few years since I last read it but I remember it fondly:

Want to build a successful web app? Then it’s time to Get Real.
Getting Real is a smaller, faster, better way to build software.
Getting Real is about skipping all the stuff that
represents real (charts, graphs, boxes, arrows, schematics,
wireframes, etc.) and actually building the real thing.
Getting real is less. Less mass, less software, less features,
less paperwork, less of everything that’s not essential (and
most of what you think is essential actually isn’t).
Getting Real is staying small and being agile.
Getting Real starts with the interface, the real screens that
people are going to use. It begins with what the customer
actually experiences and builds backwards from there. This lets
you get the interface right before you get the software wrong.
Getting Real is about iterations and lowering the
cost of change. Getting Real is all about launching,
tweaking, and constantly improving which makes
it a perfect approach for web-based software.
Getting Real delivers just what customers need
and eliminates anything they don’t.

The Verge reviews – ebook readers

The verge has a fantastic collection of product reviews for dedicated ebook readers on the market. Believe it or not the Amazon Kindle is not the only reader on market. Be sure to make use of the sites ‘filter’ feature which makes comparing products an enjoyable experience.

What do we now hunt when buying books? Data

Craig Mod writes about hacking book covers:

…with the present digital inflection, the role of the cover is changing radically; disappearing in some cases. It doesn’t need to shout anymore because it doesn’t serve the same purpose.

This shift presents a wonderful chance for designers to break from thinking of a cover as an individual asset, and certainly a chance to break from a tight coupling with the marketing department. In a sense, it’s a chance to play again. To hack. And I can’t help but feel that elements of the design of our future digital books should take to heart the craftsmanship and metered rationality embedded in so much Japanese book design.

It is the same with music, I only use the data views within itunes and never the cover flow view.

Print books better than ebooks for learning?

Tony Bates points to some new work from the University of Leicester that suggests physical books may be better for deep learning:

This excellent article looks at research done at the University of Leicester, and also draws on experience from a number of people, that suggests that ‘physical books are best when you want to study complex ideas and concepts that you wish to integrate deeply into your memory……This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for e-text books or computerized courseware, however. Different media have different strengths.’

Check it out for yourself  Do we learn less from e-books?

I have been scooping up ebooks to learning web design related topics very happily, and I don’t make notes in the margins of print books either. Tony comments that some of the problem may be the ‘experience’ of the devices we read on.

I will keep an eye on this.

Uses for ebooks

Despite having been around for years, ebooks are still very underutalised in education. There are two types of ebook to consider. Firstly, those books made available from the publishers and other writers. Secondly, self-published books that you produce yourself. I am not sure how much we can shape the path that the academic publishers are on at present so will focus on self-publishing of digital books.

There are plenty of uses for print books in education and currently the main driver for education ebooks is to replicate existing print books in digital form.

For the most part this means simply scanning print books and using Adobe PDF as the ebook file format. The scans are often of poor quality and do not take advantage of the power features of the format.

This underlying theme will continue but the most exciting area will be finding new uses for books that take advantage of what being digital can offer.

Why now?

The growth of commercial ebooks led largely by the ease with which we can now distribute and view ebooks on our mobile devices (laptops, phones and dedicated readers) has shone a light on applications for education.

There hasn’t been much recent research on producing digital books for eduction so I hope posts like this and the work JISC will be doing this year will contribute to the start of something bigger.

ebooks can be accessed and read  across multiple  platforms:

  • There are dedicated ebook readers (to remain niche?)
  • Mobile phones
  • Computers and tablets
  • Printed out

Uses for digital books

  1. Text books (ebooks textbooks)
  2. Course supplement
  3. Promotional books e.g. prospectus
  4. Course handbooks
  5. Workbooks
  6. Reading lists
  7. Reference book
  8. Monograph
  9. Research e.g. journals
  10. Collecting themed work e.g. blog posts

In a future post I will explore the unique opportunities that digital books can offer.


JISC – Digital monogragh technical landscape study

JISC Digital Media – Introduction to ebooks

JISC Digital Media – Getting started with ebooks

Craig Mod – Post-artifact books and publishing