Notes from a designer

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High Performance Web Sites by Steve Souders

Essential Knowledge for Front-End Engineers

Over six years since its first publication, this concise little book remains relevant, listing 14 ways to improve your website’s performance that still hold true today.

As a designer, particularly having come from a print design background, I often spend large chunks of web design projects primarily focused on look and feel: color palette, branding and messaging; choice of imagery—photography, illustrations, icons and so on; where the eye lands as it travels across a page and whether that flow is helping folks get to where you want them to land. But my experience as a front end developer has taught me that while there are more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to choosing an approach to building a great looking site, not all of them are equal in terms of performance.

High Performance Web Sites - Essential Knowledge for Front-End Engineers

High Performance Web Sites: Essential Knowledge for Front-End Engineers
By Steve Souders; O’Reilly Media.

How a site is built may not be readily apparent to the end user, but it makes all the difference in the world in its relative page load time and by extension, user experience. Who wants to waste time waiting for even a great-looking web page to load these days, after all? With page speed ever-increasingly important for search engine optimization, it behooves developers to plan in advance to create an efficient, speedy web site from the ground up.

Of course, even older sites can benefit from a performance review and improvement plan. One site I managed for a couple years was bestowed upon me complete with bloated code and little regard for accessibility nor page load time; I spent countless hours tinkering under the hood to clean things up, with dramatic results. Having a copy of O’Reilly Media’s High Performance Web Sites, by Steve Souders, on hand would have been super handy.

Over six years since its first publication, this concise little book remains relevant, listing 14 ways to improve your website’s performance that still hold true today. Front-end developers will find tips to speed up page load time by up to 50%, collected by Souders as he optimized sites such as the Yahoo! Front Page.

I found that while I already had a number of these strategies in my arsenal, I learned a few things that I look forward to using in the future. Sounders deftly covers such topics as where to put stylesheets and scripts, avoiding redirects and the use of duplicate scripts, and reducing HTTP requests and DNS lookups, among other best practices.

Students of web engineering should find Souders’ primer essential to their training, while seasoned developers will appreciate it as a refresher on the basics of approaching the construction of a faster-loading, well-optimized web site.