Designed for Use

It’s not a design-pattern book but focused on solely on user interfaces.

On seeing this book for the first time, you might be wondering where it fits on the shelf of interface design books that have arrived in the past few years. It’s not a design-pattern book, like Jenifer Tidwell’s Designing Interfaces, or even a nuts-and-bolts book, the kind that gets outdated pretty quickly. Instead, it’s closer to or Susan Weinschenk’s Neuro Web Design but focused on solely on user interfaces and a lot more in-depth. The best way to describe the approach this book takes is that it breaks the task of building an interface down into research, design and implementation, instead of where many books skip right to the second or third stage.

One theme that comes up a lot in the book is understanding who is using your application. Right from the first chapter, it starts with finding out who your user is and what is the job they are trying to do. Besides research, testing an interface and getting feedback is a constant subject, a lot more than many other interface books seem to focus on. Like Neuro Web Design, there’s a lot of psychology cited and weaved into this book. One aspect I liked was how it used examples from many different areas, such as computer mice or video games in later chapters. Learning from video games comes up at several points in the book.

A big part of this book is on how to test designs before writing any code. The whole “Implementation” section is mostly about designing tests and collecting information. It’s pretty in-depth and covers a lot of information that isn’t usually found in books like this.

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There are of course chapters on making interfaces functionality discoverable and consistent, which is expected, but there’s also chapters on writing for the web and how readers hunt and scan pages for information rather than read them as they might a newspaper. Another section covers an idea that is known to designers but not covered in interface design: simplifying and knowing when to leave things out. Of course, tablets are covered in this book too, focusing on the non-obvious differences between a touch interface and a mouse interface such as how easy it is to reach buttons on a screen. Each of the chapters is relatively short (5-6 pages), and there’s usually some illustrations or black and white photos to illustrate topics – a bit sparse but makes reading quick.

For readers looking for too much implementation details, say like programming with the latest copy of jQuery UI, they will be disappointed, there isn’t a line of JavaScript, or any other computer languages, to be found in this book’s 300-odd pages. In closing, this is an interface design book that starts readers off with understanding the user and their needs by drawing on both practical examples and mixing in relevant psychology. The book keeps coming back to that idea of understanding the user and testing ideas way before any code is written.