This week I launched a new site for a 6-month-old company in Fort Collins – Sign With Prestige. Sign With Prestige sells fine pens, stationery, journals, leather accessories and bags and wedding invitations. The site  showcases each of these content areas by page.

The business owners, Marie and Steve Hornback, are past clients. Marie runs H.M.S. Protocol and Etiquette Training, and does speaking engagements for that business. Steve owns Artech Dental Ceramics in Fort Collins.

I’d used phpslideshow for my website’s portfolio a few years ago, but lately it had gotten unwieldy. Because of the layout of my site, I could only fit in three columns of thumbnails, and I’ve launched quite a few projects recently. The thumbnails were way below the actual content of the page, so I decided it was time for something new.

I really like SimpleViewer after using it for a client’s site, and that’s the one I started working with first, but I needed more control over the captions.

One of my tweeple pointed out how nicely Javascript-based Highslide allows you to style captions by showing my his own nicely-done portfolio, so I decided to try it. I liked that Highslide is a thumbnail viewer and not primarily a slideshow – that’s just what I needed. I also really liked the very nice caption styling options.

I downloaded a copy and found it extremely easy to work with – in about 30 minutes I had the first few thumbnails set up and working. This is a very nice script. It took me several hours to dump all 36+ projects into the page, but I’m very happy with the results in my new portfolio.

I have  a lot of web design books – I mean a lot. I’ve been collecting them since I started Red Kite in 2005, and I thought this would be a great place to share which ones have been most useful to me as a designer and developer.

Even though things change very rapidly in the web world, these books are still very valid and important.

Four good CSS books for those just starting out:

1) The Zen of CSS Design.

From the creators of the Zen Garden, this is one of the first books I bought as a result of being blown away by the amazing variety of design work on that site. If you’re new to CSS and have not yet visited the Zen Garden, go. Now. It was the single biggest influence on me as a web designer starting out.

This beautiful book by Dave Shea and Molly Holzschlag provides a very detailed look at the code, styles and design presented on the website. It’s a must-have as far as design inspiration.

Best thing about this book: meaningful examples of just about every basic and not-so-basic CSS technique accompany imagery right from the Zen Garden site.

2) The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks.

Let me first say that I don’t use hacks.  🙂
This book is a nice collection of tips for new and experienced CSS users. It’s organized in a smart question-and-answer format (“How do I create a print style sheet?”) from the folks at Sitepoint.

Best thing about this book: the chapter on positioning and layout has saved me on numerous occasions.

3) Eric Meyer on CSS.

This book (and its sequel) by web standards advocate Eric Meyer is a great overview of how to use CSS in real-world websites.

Best thing about this book: each chapter is its own step-by-step project – for example, “How To Skin a Menu” and “How to Style a Press Release.”

4) 250 HTML And Web Design Secrets.

While not specifically a CSS book, there’s such a fine collection of info packed into this one compact volume by Molly Holzschlag that it’s well worth having in your design library – there are several chapters on CSS, but this is really a comprehensive web design guide suited for beginner to intermediate designers.

Best thing about this book: so much useful information arranged into bite-sized chunks.

I installed Evernote on my machines several months ago but had never really used it. However, when I had my laptop in the workshops at Web Directions North on Monday, I discovered that Evernote is actually quite convenient.

I can write or drag text into a note, or drag an image or web URL, and then tag the post so that I can search for it later. Pretty cool. I’ll probably start using it more; I can take notes about a project and tag it with the project name for easy recall. It’s kind of like a perpetual notepad.

I was lucky enough to get to two workshops at this very well-organized conference in Denver (just an hour away, how could I not go?). One came free with my paid registration on Dec. 1 as a special deal; the other was a freebie from John Allsop by way of apology for some Paypal issues with my registration payment. So I got two for the price of, well, none…

First thing Monday morning after a not-too-unreasonable drive down from Fort Collins was Elliot Jay Stocks’ excellent talk about the design process. There were about 30 attendees; most called themselves designers (from freelancers to agency employees or in-house designers) and the rest were either developers or people brand new to the field, whether by choice or by necessity.

I was very pleased to learn that about 95% of Elliot’s process overlaps my own – or at least what my own would be given a large enough budget and enough time. A few things stood out as differences; most prominent were wireframes and prototypes.

I kind of do my wireframes in my head. I do sketch them out on paper, but I don’t really work these up in Photoshop or another tool, and I never present them to a client. I suppose if I had a really large project I would be more inclined to include this step but so far, I haven’t found it essential.

I’ve never done a working prototype. When I work up designs they’re in Photoshop and I send them to the client as .jpg’s or .pdf’s. Elliot’s ideas included using the .jpg as a background image for a simple web page, with invisible links over the clickable parts of the image so that the client could at least get a basic impression of how things would work.

I could do this. I’m not sure if it wouldn’t just confuse some clients who might think (as many in the room brought up) that the prototype was the final, finished web page. I can totally see that happening.

In any event I got some ideas on how to refine or fill out my own design process and it was well worth the four hours of workshop time.

More about the other workshop later.

Sitting here in Elliot Jay Stocks’ workshop – this is an excellent talk/conversation so far on the entire web design process up to the actual development stage.

And this is kind of cool – I’m tweeting, following other people’s comments on Twitter, writing this blog post and participating in a workshop all at once. Talk about multitasking…

So far I’m very happy to be here – everything is going very well and I met John Allsop, who arranged for me to attend this workshop this morning on Saturday.