Re: Help, my head is about to explode

The one where Malarkey asks you to help answer a reader's question about web design books.

Today I opened my email to find a passionate plea for help from a web designer looking to find good books or articles on web design.

Furrukh asks,

Dear Geezers,

If in the next few minutes you might hear a loud explosion, it may quite possibly be my head exploding, from not finding out an answer for the following question?

I want to code a web page that allows users to choose from 5 different template options, (like the Bloggers template page option). Are there any books or articles you could recommend that show how to do this?

Remember you may be able to help my head exploding.

Please hurry... with best regards


There hasn't been a lot of time for me to read of late, infact I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't done much more than skim through Mr. Budd's CSS Mastery. So I thought I'd throw open Furrukh's question to you, dear reader.

What web design books have you read, loved and would recommend? Or what are the books that should be avoided like a pork chop at a Bar Mitzvah?


  1. #1 On March 29, 2006 05:11 AM Stefan Hayden said:

    This just sound like he's in need of a template engine. A quick google search will bring plenty of results.

    My friend has used Smarty for his own projects and speaks highly of it and the sitepoint forums seem to have a good list of options as well.

    Hopefully this will put you on the right track to find what you are looking for.

  2. #2 On March 29, 2006 05:46 AM brian warren said:

    It's not clear if he wants the people publishing the page to be able to choose a template or if it's just the visitors to his site. If it's the latter, I would think that he or she might avoid a mess by using a style switcher.

    A Backward Compatible Style Switcher : A List Apart

    If he or she could create 5 different stylesheets for said webpage, then the visitor could select one as their template of choice. It uses a cookie to remember the choice.

  3. #3 On March 29, 2006 08:00 AM Jaakko Knuutila said:

    Just to prevent ones head from exploding I'd recommend;

    Web Standard Solutions

    Bulletproof Web Design

    both written by Dan Cederholm.

    In addition to CSS Mastery you already mentioned, there is a second edition of Designing with Web Standards coming out soon. I really don't know what has changed from the first edition, but Zeldmans little orange book is always worth the read.

    And last but certainly not least Dave Shea/Molly Holzschlag The Zen of CSS design

  4. #4 On March 29, 2006 08:29 AM David Horn said:

    Bullet Proof Web Design is a good one, for sure. Don't know if it would do what Farrukh wants though - Blog Design Solutions (Budd, Rutter, et al) might be a better bet - chapters in that cover some of the main blogging solutions, which can always have a number of different style sheets applied to them for template generation.

    Failing that, I suggest an especially large band-aid and, perhaps, a plastic bag - to be loosely tied about the cranium to prevent excess splatter. Blood is a bugger to remove.

  5. #5 On March 29, 2006 08:53 AM Alan said:

    I would second Blog Design Solutions as it is a nice easy read and has some very good insight into the different blogging engines... Combine the knowledge in there with some styleswitching goodness and happyness will prevail and no mess shall follow...

  6. #6 On March 29, 2006 10:01 AM Jaakko Knuutila said:

    Blog design solutions is well worth the price even for the Expression engine chapter alone. It's the only chapter I've read throughly and skimmed the others.

    To keep up with what is happening in the standards based web design I've collected some RSS-feeds which I read on a daily basis. If you'd like to take a look you can download the opml file

  7. #7 On March 29, 2006 12:52 PM Matt Puchlerz said:

    Again, I�m not sure if he is referring to the user as being the site�s end user or a contributor to the site� The former can probably be accomplished via one of the billions of ways to change out stylesheets on the fly. However, if the latter is the case, might I recommend trying out a PHP templating engine called TinyButStrong (TBS).

    The site is currently not too much in the way of design, but it serves the purpose. I�ve used TBS on a couple of sites and it is really great as far as I�m concerned. I haven�t really played too much with Smarty, but from what I�ve seen, TBS seems way easier to work with and is super-lightweight in comparison.

    (I�m in no way affiliated with TBS other than being a happy user of it. I am, however, contributing to it in that I�m currently redesigning the entire site. Should look a lot different come May.)

  8. #8 On March 29, 2006 02:26 PM Ara Pehlivanian said:

    Sounds like a custom job to me. I mean sure, you could use a Style Switcher (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but I suspect he wants to change the markup as well as the style. That means different rendering routines in your server side scripts.

    Or am I not understanding his Q?

  9. #9 On March 29, 2006 05:04 PM Scott Jungling said:

    I would recommend investigating the default template set for MovableType. One of the neat things they did with the latest versions of their default templates is make the structure fairly flexible but depending on the class you assigned to the body tag, the style-sheets (from their style library) would render "different" layouts.

    For examples "layout-two-column-left", "layout-three-column", "layout-two-column-right" will give you different layouts with the same content. They use "alpha", "beta", "gamma" for their column ID's to keep it uber-generic.

    If you're looking to do generic templates, then this might be worth looking into. All you would need to allow the user to do would be to "select a layout" that would alter the class attribute on the body tag, which could be done server side or through DOM manipulation.

  10. #10 On March 31, 2006 07:16 AM Damien said:

    Can't go wrong with;

    'Web Standards Solutions'
    anything by Eric Meyer