Review: Designing for Behavior Change

Designing for Behavior Change: Applying Psychology and Behavioral Economics by Stephen Wendel is from O’Reilly (2013). The book is aimed at app developers who want to make a product that will be used regularly and will cause people to change their daily habits and routines.

It’s full of ideas, examples, studies, and information to help you plan, design, test, and deploy an app that will help people make a change. The change might be to exercise more often, save money, or something else. Many examples in the book are from HelloWallet, where author Stephen Wendel works, but there are plenty of examples from other places as well.

The book takes you through the complete process of figuring out the goal for your app, clearly stating the behavior you want to achieve, and the process of creating, designing and testing to make sure you accomplish the goal. There is science to back up the author’s suggestions. There are examples to help you understand what kind of behavior change you can expect people to make using an app, and how to get them to use it long enough to make the desired changes by keeping the interface simple. It talks about designing, coding, about measuring impact, and about refining a product as you go along.

Footnotes and appendices are many if you want to get into the various studies and examples cited in the book, but there’s plenty of information here to get you going with just this source.

Each chapter is almost a text in itself, because the author repeats many of the core princples of what you need to keep in mind in every chapter. It’s repetitious, but it also reinforces the key points at every step along the way.

Summary: An excellent guide to designing apps to create behavior changes.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Designing for Behavior Change: Applying Psychology and Behavioral Economics (rating: 5 stars)

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy. You can buy the book from O’Reilly, as well as Amazon. The link to O’Reilly is not an affiliate link.

Review: CSS Fonts

CSS Fonts by Eric A. Meyer is from O’Reilly Media (2013). It’s a small book. It’s only about fonts. All about fonts. Everything about fonts. Exhaustively about fonts. If you want to learn things you didn’t even know were possible to do to fonts with CSS, this is the book for you.

The book has sections on font families, @font-face, font weights, font size, font style, font stretching, font kerning, font variants, font features (the font features section was all news to me), font synthesis (another new idea for me), the font property, and font matching.

I read an iBooks version which came in at 120 pages, but the Amazon listing for the paperback lists it at 68 pages. That sounds like not many pages for a tech book, but every possible detail about using and controlling fonts with CSS is in this book. There are many code examples and many screen captures of what the code does in the browser.

Summary: Absolutely everything about fonts.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of CSS Fonts (rating: 5 stars)

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy. You can buy the book from O’Reilly, as well as Amazon. The link to O’Reilly is not an affiliate link.

Review: Jump Start Responsive Web Design

Jump Start Responsive Web Design by Craig Sharkie and Andrew Fisher is from SitePoint (2013). I found this book uneven in usefulness, so I’m only giving it 3 stars, although it did have some very valuable tips.

The first part of the book talks in general about responsive design. Then it goes into fluid grids. The explanation of the mathematical underpinnings of grids and font-size decisions in this section were clear. However, some parts of this discussion made almost no sense to me because the reader is expected to download files and be at a computer while reading. The code examples printed in the text are not adequate for someone like me who was reading an electronic version of the book to follow the discussion. There were references to things unseen and comments you couldn’t follow unless you were working in the downloaded code.

The adaptive images chapter gave us several alternate ideas for working with images. There was no definitive best practice set forth in this section because we really don’t have a definite answer yet, or even a final choice as to the HTML elements that will format responsive images.

In the section on understanding media queries there was excellent detail and advice. I was impressed with some of the solutions the authors pointed to dealing with the constantly changing number of potential breakpoints in responsive designs.

The chapter I found most fascinating was the one on responsive content. Discussion focused on ways to structure content with metadata and supporting structure that allow for the reuse of chunks of content in various ways. This is part of the overall concept of responsive design that seldom gets mentioned. The book is worth reading for this chapter alone.

The final chapter looked at various boilerplate solutions and how they can be adapted to your individual needs.

Summary: Lots of tips for making responsive web design work for you.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Jump Start Responsive Web Design (rating: 3 stars)

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. You can buy the book from O’Reilly, as well as Amazon. The link to O’Reilly is not an affiliate link. Here is my review policy.

Review: WordPress: The Missing Manual

[Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy.]

WordPress: The Missing Manual Cover Image
WordPress: The Missing Manual (Missing Manuals) is by Matthew MacDonald from O’Reilly (2012). It provides complete coverage of everything that WordPress can do. You’ll learn how to set up a blog from scratch, all about plugins, widgets, themes, hosting and more. I’ve been using WordPress for years and I learned several new things that I didn’t even know WordPress could do.

Topic by topic, the writer leads you through each section of the book with clear instructions, lots of good screen shots, and plenty of tips about how to make it all work perfectly. I like the fact that this book deals with everything from starting the simplest blog on to the most advanced and specialized uses you can create with a self-hosted blog.

Downloadable code examples are included with the book.

The table of contents is huge. I will give you a fast glance of some of the topics included. I’m skipping a lot – if it’s about WordPress and you don’t see it in my list, it’s probably here, because everything is here. My fast list of topics: getting started, writing posts, URLs, themes, media, pages, menus, comments, plug-ins, mobile sites, authors, SEO, feeds, stats, child themes, fonts, custom category pages, custom fields, e-commerce and more.

I’m scheduled to teach some WordPress classes soon, and I’ve been looking for a book to help me organize the topics that need to be included in that class. This book is perfect for that.

O’Reilly has a whole series of Missing Manual books. This book is representative of the entire series, which are generally a great resource for complete information about software.

Summary: Positively everything you might ever want to know about using WordPress is in this book.

You can buy the book from O’Reilly, as well as Amazon.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of WordPress: the Missing Manual (rating: 5 stars)

Playing catch up with HTML and CSS? Here are some recommended books.

Carolyn Wood asked this question on Twitter yesterday.

I responded with two suggestions that are current favorites of mine. I’ve reviewed them both here. If you’d like to know more about what I recommend as the two best books for catching up, here are my reviews:

I often see people in my classes who learned HTML and basic CSS back in the day and who need to bring themselves up to date. These two books will be a big help if all you want to deal with is two books.

Review: The Modern Web: Multi-Device Web Development with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript

[Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy.]

The Modern Web cover

The Modern Web: Multi-Device Web Development with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript by Peter Gasston is from no starch press (2013).

Recently I’ve been reevaluating that pyramid (or three-legged stool) image we have of what skills are used to create a web site. The traditional pyramid metaphor has been a broad foundational layer of semantic HTML, followed by a second presentational layer of CSS, with the complete pyramid being topped by a small peak of interaction created with JavaScript.

Now we have a modern web. We deal more and more often with responsive (or adaptive) thinking, with apps, with APIs, with new CSS layout techniques using programming concepts, and with images built from SVG or canvas. All these changes lead me to think that the foundational layer in the pyramid of web design skills should be recognized as JavaScript. Books like this one reinforce that idea. (I first began thinking about this when I reviewed Introducing HTML5, but I didn’t mention it at the time.)

There is concern over the idea of HTML5 as “pure” HTML vs. the idea of HTML5 and related technologies that often get labeled as HTML5. It’s a dilemma facing many authors today who tackle the topic of modern web technologies, because you can no longer talk “just” about HTML.

The web is moving toward scripting as a way of dealing with every part of a website. In this book by Peter Gasston, it’s very clear that what he calls “the demands and requirements of working on the multi-device Web” are interlaced inextricably with JavaScript. He’s writing about that broader range of technologies I mentioned.

This is a well-written book. In a clear and accessible manner, Gasston leads you through several chapters detailing the latest technologies and thinking in modern web design. The book isn’t for newbies, it’s for people who already have skills and want to keep informed on the latest thinking, trends, techniques, and possible future directions. Here’s a summary of the chapters. Every chapter has an extensive section called Further Reading with excellent resources for the reader.

  1. The Web Platform talks about HTML5 and new best practices, CSS3 and beyond, and CSS preprocessors.
  2. Structure and Semantics deals with new elements in HTML5, WAI-ARIA, semantic markup, microformats, RDFa, microdata, data attributes and web components.
  3. Device-Responsive CSS provides information about media queries, adaptive and responsive design, viewport relative length units, and responsive images.
  4. New Approaches to CSS Layouts talks about multi-columns, flexbox, and grid layout.
  5. Modern JavaScript looks at new features in JavaScript, JavaScript libraries, and polyfills and shims.
  6. Device APIs covers a whole bunch of APIs from geolocation to drag and drop as well as information about PhoneGap and Native Wrappers.
  7. Images and Graphics includes SVG and canvas.
  8. New Forms takes you through new input types, new attributes, datalists, on-screen controls, form validation, constraint validation and css for forms.
  9. Multimedia deals with media elements, media API, and media events.
  10. Web Apps talks about various kinds of apps and tools for creating them as well as application cache.
  11. The Future goes through some really interesting ideas that may become reality in the future such as decorators, the shadow DOM, regions and exclusions in CSS and more.

There’s an appendix for browser support and one with further reading suggestions.

The style of presenting each concept is consistent throughout the book. He introduces a single idea, provides a spare code example, and shows the results. (He talks as if there are code samples available for download somewhere, but although I searched for a mention of the location of those code samples, I couldn’t find it.) Then he builds on the previous example with an new idea, a new code example, and a new result. It’s a very effective way of walking the reader through the new information and building an understanding of it step by step.

Summary: Trying to keep up? This book is an informative and up-to-the-minute look at modern web technologies.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of The Modern Web: Multi-Device Web Development with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript (rating: 5 stars)

A Review of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

[Disclosure: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy. I did not receive a review copy of this book, but bought it myself.]

Lean in book cover

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is by Sheryl Sandberg, published by Knopf in 2013. I thought this was a positive and inspiring book in many ways. I’ve read reviews by other women who criticize Sandberg for being too rich or too privileged, or too whatever for them to learn anything from her. I don’t want to do that here. What I am going to do is share some of the positive things about the book that I think do apply to all women.

My biggest takeaway from this book is that Sheryl Sandberg is everywoman. She has the same struggles, worries, and concerns that we all have. She isn’t some other species who somehow magically became a success through no effort of her own. What she does have is the fact that she’s smart, she works hard, and she takes the risks she needs to take in order to achieve.

I’m going to let Sandberg speak for herself by quoting some of the things from the book I found particularly powerful. Instead of blockquoting them all, I’ll just make a list. These are all direct quotes.

  1. When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of boss does not surprise or offend.
  2. For women, feeling like a fraud is a symptom of a greater problem. We consistently underestimate ourselves. Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is. . . . I learned over time that while it was hard to shake feelings of self-doubt, I could understand that there was a distortion. . . . I learned to undistort the distortion.
  3. Research backs up this “fake it till you feel it” strategy. One study found that when people assumed a higher-power pose (for example, taking up space by spreading their limbs) for just two minutes, their dominance hormone levels (testosterone) went up and their stress hormone levels (cortisol) went down. As a result, they felt more powerful and in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk. A simple change in posture led to a significant change in attitude.
  4. I believe this bias [Ed.: we evaluate people based on stereotypes] is at the very core of why women are held back. It is also at the very core of why women hold themselves back.
  5. Owning one’s success is key to achieving more success.
  6. People expect men to advocate on their own behalf, point out their contributions, and be recognized and rewarded for them. For men, there is truly no harm in asking. But since women are expected to be concerned with others, when they advocate for themselves or point to their own value, both men and women react unfavorably.
  7. Women need to shift from thinking, “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it.”
  8. I am now a true believer in bring our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time.
  9. What I am arguing is that the time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives – not before, and certainly not years in advance. The months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back, but the critical time to lean in.

There’s a lot in this book to inspire women to take the lead in their own lives and in their careers. I suggest that all people (not just women) should read it. I recently read books about Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, which were both enlightening and fascinating. Lean In however, is an example of how a woman can succeed in a very male industry. Both men and women need to be aware of what their female colleagues think and do (or don’t do) in order to advance in their careers.

Summary: An inspiring guide to how a woman can become a leader.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Lean In: Work, Women and the Will to Lead (rating: 5 stars)