The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners
Issue № 225

The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners

A note from the editors: While helpful when first published, many of these links are now out of date.

A List Apart publishes articles written for working web professionals, but we appreciate the predicament of new web designers and builders who aren’t sure where to begin. As we promised in our primer for readers new to ALA, we’ve collected a set of starting points for the next generation of people who make websites.

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But before we jump into the lists, a personal note. Early in my career, I found myself at a crossroads: I had to decide whether I should finish my design degree or to go the route of self-education.

I’d been e-mailing Carole Guevin, the founder of Netdiver, with questions about the design industry and about her site — and she was always warm, receptive, and patient with my myriad of inquiries. When I asked her about my educational dilemma, her reply was one of the most memorable of my career to date: “The formal education is good for teaching you the basics, but your real design education begins once you leave the university.”

“Web design” is a much more complicated profession than it was ten years ago, but we still believe in the ability of the self-taught professional to develop top-notch skills through immersion in the kinds of resources and communities we’ve collected below.

ALA peanut butter sandwiches#section2

The following websites comes from ALA staff recommendations. Many of these are the sites that we’ve used—and still use—to improve our own skills. We hope this list can serve as a starting point for a larger collection of resources for fledgling web designers and developers.

Where to begin: essential reference and tutorials#section3

We think these articles, tutorials, tools, and reference guides will help you build a bookmark collection that’s vital to your everday work.

Web design#section4

Information architecture#section5

Markup, CSS, and scripting#section6

Sites that grow with you: magazines, communities, and portals#section7

While the above sites will help get you up to speed to begin with, the following sites will help you keep learning, stay inspired, and join the global network of web professionals. Most of these sites are updated frequently, and several contain forums or e-lists where you can ask questions that even the strongest Google-fu can’t find answers to.

Multi-subject resources#section8



Markup, style, standards, and accessibility#section11

Your turn#section12

New web folk, what resources would you add to these lists? Advanced readers, where do you send your new colleagues when they have questions? Tell us what’s missing in our discussions.

26 Reader Comments

  1. Although the CSS gallery thing is starting to get out of hand, viewing “real-world” examples have always been helpful to me. I learned to code by reverse-engineering other people’s code, and it’s inspiring to see how other designers solved practical problems. “CSS Beauty”: has been a consistently strong resource for me.

  2. Thanks for the great collection of web resources. Although I knew some of them it’s always good to have a few more.

    For your international readers there might be another great resource: “”: It covers almost all topics of HTML and CSS in brief. Currently it’s available in German, French, Spanish and Japanese. English translation is on its way.

  3. I’ve been trying my hardest to learn design skills, but coming from a programming background it’s a bit daunting; especially if your girlfriend is a designer herself it makes it out into something like a dark art which you can only be born with.

    Something which you can imagine is pretty off-putting at first, but can be challenged with hard work and determination and these articles and links you’ve posted will help a lot in furthering my skills.

    The hardest thing i think is just coming up with ideas, I mean when you come home from work tired and drained it’s hard to muster up ideas for your personal site but lately i’m finding inspiration with my flickr pals and the groups i’ve joined and made a few long-term friends along the way.

    What can i say, the ALA will always be a site for inspiration and these sources help out a lot.

    If anyone’s got any more things they think i should read, let me know, appreciate it.

    All the very best.


  4. Thanks dudes, what a great bunch of cool site where to learn from. I also would recommend to visit “Stu Nicholls Site” He is a well known _CSS_ Artist, who makes extraordinary things *just with css*.

  5. I’m also doing web design and I’ve been accustomed to using Dreamweaver, Photoshop & Flash. I have to admit though that they are expensive. Are there any free or inexpensive alternatives to these 3 that you guys from ALA use?

  6. Thanks so much for that collection of links. If anyone ever tells me they want to learn how to web design from now on, i’ll be able to keep them busy for quite some time.

    I also suggest this “Html Tutorial”: . It really got me a solid foundation of the what’s going on behind everything else.


  7. There is a typo in “Designing a CSS-Based Template,” a five-part series from Veerle Pieters – the attribute HREF of A tag is “http://http://” which points to “” via Google redirect in Firefox.

    Other than that, nice collection of resources! Thanks a bunch!

  8. Great little list. I’d like to add my resource, Devlounge ( We try to provide original articles on web design related topics such as web standards, design, and code as often as possible.

  9. That’s a very handy list, your site and many of the others you’ve mentioned have been scoured and many re-visited in my quest to improve my CSS and XHTML knowledge.

    One you missed – CSSPlay by Stu Nicholls

    Probably not for beginners, but Stu’s experiments have been very helpful in giving me some new ideas as to what’s possible.
    Although some aren’t cross browser or accessible – there’s some great (and fun) ideas on here. Check it out.

    Note to self: Check out a List Apart code to work out how they do that nice comment preview thing!

  10. I know that books are rather ‘old media’ but since I usually end up printing out destructions having them pre-printed can be useful. Here are some that I like:

    * “Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML”: *the* best introduction I have come across. Tackles syntax, with examples and gently introduces _theory_ (that’s right — what is elements, how inheritance?) as you go along. Totally brilliant — I am using with a class of n00bs and they love it!
    * Eric Meyer’s “On CSS”: and “More Eric Meyer on CSS”: are well worth shelling out for.
    * Dave Shea & Molly Holzschlag’s “The Zen of CSS Design”:

    and there are lots more goodies. I do find Zeldman’s “Designing with Web Standards”: rather preachy and over the top. Not one to buy if you’re wanting to do CSS rather than read about how upstanding you are to want to do CSS.

  11. Thanks for the great list of links. There are several blog posts out on the internet of this very theme, but this ALA post is my favorite so far. I’ll be sure to send it to anyone coming to me interested in web design. 🙂

    I’d also like to second the recommendation above:

  12. Some useful links for those who provide web page content or design to the U.S. government.

    U.S. Government Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards (Section 508)
    Final Standards –
    Preamble (published discussion of the standards) –
    Subpart B — Technical Standards (in both Final Standards and Preamble) contains the following:
    Section 1194.21 Software Applications and Operating Systems is most applicable to web page applications.
    Section 1194.22 Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications is most applicable to web page design.

    These standards have a requirment for any work done for any entity of the federal government since June 21, 2001.

  13. Great links. What about resources for those who have to write for the web?
    I’m thinking articles like those from Erin Kissane on “”: What other good reference or magazine sites might compliment ALA’s Content > Writing category?

  14. Ok, I have BA in English and decided that I didn’t want to teach (which is sort of like flushing 4 years down the toilet, but iambic pentameter is pretty). I got a job answering emails at my college and then next thing you know, I’m doing design work and discovered 1) I’m not too bad at it and 2)I love IT!

    So my question is: do I need a “degree” in order to be a web designer or should I just take some classes to learn things I have difficulty teaching myself like PHP (I already taught myself HTML and CSS)? Does the market require a degree or just a good portfolio?

  15. Why is there no section on typography? What The Font should be helpful to some and definately Typophile, among others.

    Also listing forums for designers would be useful I think. Maybe Kirupa or Yay hooray or Designers Talk to name a few.

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