Defensive Design for the Web - how to design for errors

Front cover of the book
Design your website so that you gracefully recover from errors.

This book will change the way you think about errors on your website. It teaches you to aim for a perfect website knowing you will never achieve it. However, you can turn errors into opportunities, and when dealt with correctly, it can increase your user’s goodwill.

Buy the book from Amazon and save money!

Written in a simple non-technical language, Defensive Design is for people who strategically manage a website rather than the developers. This is because it doesn’t have any coding tricks. Rather it makes you think about how poor design effects user experience. It’s about designing for when things go wrong.

I really liked the use of icons throughout the book. This was described upfront and certainly made it easier to pick out the bits that I was interested in. Content was easy to find as a result and made the book easier to use and reference.

The first chapter “Understanding Defensive Design” lays the foundation of making mistakes and how to recover from it. The next nine chapters were the main body of the book. It covered areas such as showing the problem, how language matters, effective forms, error pages and best practice for searches.

The book uses real world analogies and this made a real connection with reality. Web is a scary place if it is not correctly sign posted, so this was a neat trick to bring readers back to reality.

There was a lot of common sense used in this book. However, I didn’t mind this as common sense is only common once someone tells you about it!

Having said all this, there were a few things that annoyed me. The section on “alt” tags in particular was poor technically. Throughout the book, “alt” tags were surrounded by < > whereas in HTML, “alt" is an attribute and therefore the tags can't be used. This was compounded further by the poor chapter on this subject.

The book also glosses over the problems with forms. It should have been supplemented with some hardcore technical examples of suitable code. Some of the design rules are subjective and even contradict each other.

Finally, this book does not deal with issues where the website is truly international in its visitors. Too much bias on American websites.

In summary, this is a worthy addition to your book shelf and a good reference when you need to check the basics.

To buy the book

Buy the book directly from Amazon and save money!


Defensive Design for the Web: How to Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Online Crisis Points


Matthew Linderman


New Riders; 1 edition


March 2004



This page was last updated on Saturday, 17th May 2008.