Web & Graphic Design

Websites vs. books for design training and inspiration?

The natural and easy answer would be “both”. That’s because rather than thinking they are competing against each other, you could see them as training resources that go hand in hand. Of course, each has its own pros and cons and based on your own preferences/knowledge you could be leaning towards one or the other.

After quite a long time spent believing the web was enough, I’m now going through a book phase which i have to admit I’m enjoying a lot. There’s something unique about flipping pages, which you cannot simply get from browsing a website. You feel it right there, it’s real and at the end of the day it looks better by a consistent margin.

So, getting down to the boring, yet conclusive (some might say obvious) stuff, let’s see what are the pros and cons that i can come up with for each of these two wonderful ways to showcase information.

Let’s start with the benefits of online resources:

  • first and probably the most sought out aspect is the fact that they’re mostly/usually free or very cheap;
  • the quantity or articles is growing at an ever accelerating pace;
  • they’re easy and fast to find and browse;
  • most of them are easily searchable either by using their own internal engine or through Google;
  • the content can be updated regularly, as soon as fresh information becomes available;
  • often the community will increase the quality and quantity of the materials;
  • at times it can provide access to high resolution photos/vector resources which you can use directly in your projects or learn from them;

What about the downsides of using websites as your main source of information:

  • the content’s quality as well as its presentation varies greatly and you don’t always have the certainty that what you’re reading is correct;
  • there’s a lot more content targeted towards beginners as it’s easier to create. This means there are more duplicates/redundancy and they won’t help you as much once you go past a certain level;
  • there’s no guarantee that the content will be online forever. Websites come and go all the time, so you might find one day that the article you’re looking for it’s no longer there.
  • due to the technical limitations imposed by the computer monitors, reading extensive blocks of text is both tiresome and is associated with health risks such as permanent eye strain;

Now let’s see why books are so special:

  • the information presented in them goes through a lot of filtering and checking which means they’re more reliable and better than their online counterpart. This also means that visual examples are a lot less subject to fads and last year’s fashion trends.
  • great books are focused on a certain subject. This makes it actually faster to find what you’re looking for than having to go through pages of search results and then hunt through dozens of websites.
  • design and photography books in particular are usually true works of (modern) art in their own right. Their overall look is maybe as important as the information they provide so a lot of time and effort is put into designing them. They will even act as livings examples of publication design.
  • They are a lot friendlier to your eyes than their electronic versions.
  • Information is persistent. Unless it goes through a flood, fire or a nervous breakdown you’re pretty sure it’s going to last you a lot of years from now.
  • You can carry and use them anywhere (weight restrictions apply of course) without the need for Internet access. Picture reading about Greek inspired typefaces on a Greek island.

Still, the books have some faults of their own:

  • all the eye candy comes at a price, which can range from the so called “steal” to more prohibitive values. This is usually an issue for self taught young designers breaking into the industry. Best way is to see it as an investment in yourself.
  • while trying to find information, you’re at the mercy of those who designed the books. Even the best publishing houses can drop the ball at times and make you burn the pages from to much flipping while trying to find something.
  • there’s no way to search faster and the index (which might be included or not) can only get you so far. That’s why you’ll probably have to take notes and slow down if you’re planning to revisit the book anytime in the future;

E-books seem like the logical compromise between these two. However, as far as the arts go, they’re still in their infancy, with not many publishers offering PDF versions of their print catalog. Ideally, you would have the paper version on your shelves for those moments when you can take it one page at a time and also the digital version on your hard drive for easy access.

Hopefully, in time, i’ll be able to turn this into a more extensive rundown of the benefits and issues you’ll have to face when selecting between websites and books as your main source of informal design training. Yet, as mentioned in the beginning, the point is to mix them in order to get the best of both worlds. While websites will keep you up to date, ready for whatever’s fresh in the industry, books will provide you with a more laid back approach where you can just sit down, relax and enjoy that wonderful texture and scent.

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