Every year, digital design changes.
This is especially true for 2015: the dominance of mobile browsing, the popularization of HD screens, better internet capabilities for loading media, and more availability of colors and fonts all pushed the industry forward by leaps and bounds.
Let’s explore a modernized list of the free downloadable web design ebooks, including some highly practical guides by designers from UXPin, MailChimp, and Inspect Element. Every book in this list was created in 2015, purely actionable, and best of all, free!
Released right around the turn of the new year, this example-driven e-book remains one of the most practical.
Web UI Design Best Practices discusses the modern mindsets and techniques for interface design. Teaching through examples of 33 successful sites, this design guidebook covers visual hierarchy, navigation, color theory, typography, UI patterns, and every other element of proper UI design.
Learn web design by seeing it in action.
Author Tom Kenny reviews a new website every week for his blog Inspect Element, and reprints the three most telling examples in Learn from Great Design.
Taking responsive sites into account as well, these case studies go through sites page-by-page and explain the logic behind web design decisions, how it affects their overall business strategy, and how their competitors handle the same issues. While the lineup changes periodically, in the past it included studies on Avis Car Hire, Orangina, and Harry’s.
Inbound Marketing’s Most Wanted examines web design from the perspective of an inbound marketer, listing 33 common mistakes when trying to draw in new customers.
Organizing “crimes” by planning, execution, and post-launch (with subsections on homepages, internal pages, and landing pages), this ebook reads like a structured list of best practices.
Web Design Book of Trends 2015–2016 describes the ten most popular web design trends of the past year that will live on as best practices.
Learn the best practices for techniques like visual design, long scrolling, animated interactions, video backgrounds, and more through expert analysis, 100 online resources, and examples analyzed from 166 sites like Google, Apple, Spotify, and Dropbox.
As explained in the preface, “CSS is a mess. We all love it, but it’s a mess.”
A completely online ebook, The Magic of CSS explores this web design phenomenon that gained a lot of momentum in the last few years. Not only does it describe the theory, but it also offers practical resources like data reference charts and templates.
This short ebook 17 SEO Myths You Should Leave Behind in 2015 demonstrates the quickly changing landscape of web design: each page explains a different myth about SEO that’s no longer applicable in the new age.
This is a great way introduction to working with Go, provided you are somewhat familiar with Go and Heroku.
Interaction Design Best Practices (Vol. 1) deconstructs techniques from 33 case studies. The guide explains how to design copy, space, and visuals as elements for user interactions. The book is about 110 pages long, but reads quickly since it focuses on practice over theory.
Volume 2 is also worth exploring for advice on persuasive design. Topics include affecting user decisions, designing snappy experiences, and creating desirable designs.
Don’t let the title fool you: The Essential WordPress Website Launch Checklist isn’t just a checklist to run through before a WordPress launch. It’s an instruction manual on how to create your own checklist based on your project’s needs, with recommended items as suggestions.
In the past, iThemes has released numerous ebooks on effectively using WordPress, so if that’s your preferred platform, this library could be go-to reference destination.
As mentioned, web design has recently changed in a drastic manner; but some are taking this interpretation to the extreme. Web Design Is Dead takes a stance about how the old way of doing web design is over, what practices are taking their place, and how modern web designers can better adapt to the constant fluctuations.
Bonus: Free Design Guide Classics
Some web design advice is timeless. Here are some older free books with advice that’s still relevant today.
From MailChimp, a brand web designers can trust, The UX Reader is a cover-all introduction to the basics of user experience design. Written by the MailChimp UX team, this reader is divided into five main sections — Collaboration, Research, Design, Development, and Refinement. And if that is not enough, it also includes a list of additional online resources.
A true classic in free design guides, UX Storytellers may be five years old, but its advice is still rings true today.
This massive 586-page book takes an approach unique from other design guides; it collects personal accounts from 42 seasoned UX experts and lets them offer advice in their own words. A great document to have around whenever you need a fresh perspective on a variety of topics.
Above the Fold
A broad cover-all on the entire UX design discipline, 50 UX Best Practices offers 50 tips on UX design, structured in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide spanning planning, user research, the design process, content strategy, and even front-end development.
With excellent graphics, a casual tone, and standalone tips littered through, this guide is bound to teach something new to even veteran designers.
Similar to Above the Fold’s version, Userfocus presents another broad introduction to UX design with Bright Ideas For User Experience Designers (they also have available similar books for UX researchers and UX managers).
By examining the spectrum of UX design principles with a fun and casual approach — such as explaining support material through the Beatles and coining the term “the CRAP way to usability” — this book set a high bar for the design guides to follow.
A practical handbook to web design, Web Design For The Human Eye (Volume 1) explains how to design for instant visual understanding. Since sight is the strongest human sense, the guide explains how to apply techniques to your website from Gestalt, color theory, contrast/similarity, and other disciplines. To demonstrate its lessons, the 100-page guide also includes over 30 case studies.
Since free e-books aren’t always released on a regular basis, here is my recommended list of design blogs to read as we head into 2016:
Want to learn more?
If you’re interested in the intersection between UX and UI Design, then consider to take the online course UI Design Patterns for Successful Software and alternatively Design Thinking: The Beginner’s Guide. If, on the other hand, you want to brush up on the basics of UX and Usability, you might take the online course on User Experience (or another design topic). Good luck on your learning journey!
(Lead image: Depositphotos)