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Ask Slashdot: Good, Relevant Usability Book?

timothy posted about 3 years ago | from the how-does-this-fitt? dept.

Books 173

First time accepted submitter osman84 writes "I've been developing web/mobile apps for some time, and have managed to build up some decent experience about usability. However, as I'm growing a team of developers now, I've noticed that most of the young ones have a very poor sense of usability. Unfortunately, since I was never really taught usability as science, I'm having trouble teaching them to develop usable apps. Are there any good books that make a good read for general usability guidelines for web/mobile apps? I have a couple from my college days, but I'd like something more recent, written in the era of mobile apps, etc."

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Don't Make Me Think (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631360)

Don't Make Me Think

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Make-Me-Think-Usability/dp/0321344758

Re:Don't Make Me Think (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631478)

The way the question was posed, I think the submitter was looking for something more specific, as in actual touch screen GUI design paradigms. However, I agree with your suggestion, usability is usability, and input device should not matter.

Re:Don't Make Me Think (1)

NewWorldDan (899800) | about 3 years ago | (#37631654)

You would generally think that, and mostly that's true. However, Apple, Microsoft, etc., all have style guides specific to their platforms. Having a consistent feel between apps is a big part of usability and the vendor specific platofrm guide is the next palce to go.

PLEASE REFER YOUR SUGGESTIONS (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 3 years ago | (#37632062)

To the Slashdot development team.

Perhaps they will even read the book...

Re:Don't Make Me Think (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | about 3 years ago | (#37631490)

It's the dumbing down of the smartphone! What the world has come to!?

Re:Don't Make Me Think (1)

txgunslinger (932679) | about 3 years ago | (#37631792)

Will we end up with stupidphones? I'll take two.

Re:Don't Make Me Think (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631592)

That's not a usability book.

It's an instructional manual for public school teachers.

Re:Don't Make Me Think (3, Insightful)

vgerclover (1186893) | about 3 years ago | (#37632078)

As others have already pointed out, Don't Make Me Think [amazon.com] is great and to the point, but I'd like to recommend to you The Design of Everyday Things [amazon.com] , which doesn't talk specifically about computer user interfaces, but does provide useful advice and gets you into the necessary mindset for the task. Good UI design isn't something you can just get from a book, but a book can help you get you thinking.
Also, look at horrible interfaces to learn what not to do.

Experience and intuition, not books. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632488)

While that's a good book, for sure, it won't help out in most cases. UI designers need experience and intuition, and a book can't really impart either of those well.

One good practice is to observe how other UI designers have fucked up. This is best done with your own eyes seeing the result, and your own brain analyzing the UI.

Some excellent and recent examples of major UI fuck-ups are those of GNOME 3 and Firefox 4+. These UIs are rife with blunders and mistakes. Basically, don't do what they did, and you're bound to make a usable UI.

Re:Don't Make Me Think (2)

stephanruby (542433) | about 3 years ago | (#37632626)

Aside from buying them good books, which is a good idea, I'd suggest:

1. That for the mobile part, that you make sure they own and actually personally use the actual phone os they're developing for. Buy them a phone/tablet if you have to, and make sure that they actually use that phone/tablet personally for two to three weeks (instead of their normal phone) before they even get started on any design.

For instance, don't ask an iPhone owner to develop the interface for an app on an Android phone. There are so many fundamental differences in basic functionality and UI design between iOS and Android that go well beyond the one button vs. four button difference that this could prove critical in many ways.

And the same goes when you're evaluating potential customers, make sure that they've owned and actually personally used the phone os they're targeting for a while, before you accept any spec-work from them. And if your app needs to run on low end phones as well, make sure that the phone you buy them is a low end phone to begin with, not an high end one.

2. Make sure your developers and designers are also actively involved in initial user-testing, even if it's just informal testing, and later involved in actual customer service support (both on the phone and email). As a developer, doing actual customer support can be very enjoyable since you actually have the power to change things for the user.

3. Have your designers and developers write UI critiques of other apps on the platforms you're targeting. That's also a good way for making them develop an eye for that kind of thing. You could also start an internal UI discussion group on good UI patterns, or better yet, start an actual user group/meetup on that topic at your company and invite/allow outside people to participate.

Re:Don't Make Me Think (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632722)

Don't Make Me Think

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Make-Me-Think-Usability/dp/0321344758

Ginny Redish really knows what she's talking about. I also highly recommend her book about web content, called "Letting Go of the Words".

Re:Don't Make Me Think (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632758)

I had this book in Uni - got 98% in Web Design unit!

Sure... (2)

msauve (701917) | about 3 years ago | (#37631392)

anything by Don Norman.

Re:Sure... (1)

Dogbertius (1333565) | about 3 years ago | (#37631602)

Beat me to it!

I posted this link about a year ago, but it's still good.

The design of everyday things, by Donald Norman. My personal favorite is the use of "natural mappings" versus "arbitrary mappings". Make things naturally intuitive to the user. Enjoy!

The link... (1)

Dogbertius (1333565) | about 3 years ago | (#37631620)

Beat me to it! I posted this link about a year ago, but it's still good. The design of everyday things, by Donald Norman. My personal favorite is the use of "natural mappings" versus "arbitrary mappings". Make things naturally intuitive to the user. Enjoy!

http://www.amazon.com/Design-Everyday-Things-Donald-Norman/dp/0385267746 [amazon.com] My apologies for the double post :(

Re:Sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631810)

Seconded. The Design of Everday Things is a great book. Every software dev should have read it. Hell, everybody who designs anything should have.

Re:Sure... (1)

faust2097 (137829) | about 3 years ago | (#37631832)

Norman is great for theory but if you actually need to, like, build real software there's a lot of stuff that's more practical. I like Krug's Don't Make Me Think, 37Signals' Defensive Design for the Web, LukeW's form design book and the Oreilly Designing Interfaces book. Make sure to read Apple's UI guidelines for MacOS and iOS even if you're not developing for those platforms. They're free and have a good intro-level explanation of a lot of basic software usability concepts.

Norman, Nielsen and Cooper are fun reads but offer little in the way of actual solutions (because those books mostly exist to promote their consultancies).

IAAUID (I am a UI Designer)

Re:Sure... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 3 years ago | (#37632084)

... or Victor Papanek.

Re:Sure... (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 3 years ago | (#37632630)

Or Ben Schneiderman. In particular, Designing the User Interface [aw-bc.com] .

I make everyone on my team read... (3, Informative)

UconnGuy (562899) | about 3 years ago | (#37631408)

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug before they touch any UI's. I also like Design with the Mind in Mind by Jeff Johnson. This one is a little more advanced at how the mind works though.

Re:I make everyone on my team read... (1)

Vixe (1846608) | about 3 years ago | (#37631512)

This is absolutely what I would suggest. Don't Make Me Think is well written and easy to understand, but also gives really great insight about usability.

Re:I make everyone on my team read... (1)

leenks (906881) | about 3 years ago | (#37631900)

Seconded - Designing with the Mind in Mind is very good.

Re:I make everyone on my team read... (1)

eyrieowl (881195) | about 3 years ago | (#37632524)

Another vote for Design with the Mind in Mind. Well written, relatively up-to-date, practical advice.

classics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631420)

interaction design. Sharp rogers preece

don't make me think (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631436)

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug is a good UI book. The concepts are mainly for web pages, but translate to mobile devices well enough.

Or you could try this site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631438)

Some good info and guides here: http://www.usability.gov/

Don't Make Them Think. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631448)

"Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug - incredibly easy to read book about making usable web sites

"The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman, and it's counterpart "Emotional Design" are excellent primers, but potentially boring for people who don't specifically care about design.

Josh Clark (author of "Tapworthy") has done some great work, but I haven't read his work personally.

The Design of Everyday Things (1)

Boawk (525582) | about 3 years ago | (#37631626)

I'll second this one. Very insightful. Redirects your entire approach towards the design of usability: The Design of Everyday Things [amazon.com]

And your asking slashdot? (2, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | about 3 years ago | (#37631458)

Slashdot the home of the Linux developers.

I doubt that you will find a good book on general usability. You probably should follow Apples User Interface guidelines, or Windows user interface guidelines.

And hound on your new developers to get it to look and work right.
New developers often stick at usability because of many reasons.

1. They want to reinvent the wheel into something cooler and better. This often creates relearning the same lessons on good UI over the years.

2. They don't know how. College usually offers little in User Interface and UI in training. They will try to implement what is easiest.

3. Diverse set of opinions. If you are the Boss make sure they follow your standard otherwise they will make their own.

4. Have the developers listen to the end users. Bring them in on those call and let them sweat it out as the end user calls them an idiot for making the process so convoluted.

I really doubt that giving them a book will help much.

Re:And your asking slashdot? (1)

N!k0N (883435) | about 3 years ago | (#37631542)

4. Have the developers listen to the end users. Bring them in on those call and let them sweat it out as the end user calls them an idiot for making the process so convoluted.

this is good, but you will absolutely need to get the developers to a point where they won't be over-protective of their (sometimes terrible) UI decisions. Same goes for the end-users, they need to be able to say something better than "It sucks" ... e.g. "it sucks because I have to click through these three levels of context menus to get to the 'write my own SQL query' option"...

Re:And your asking slashdot? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37631678)

this is good, but you will absolutely need to get the developers to a point where they won't be over-protective of their (sometimes terrible) UI decisions. Same goes for the end-users, they need to be able to say something better than "It sucks" ... e.g. "it sucks because I have to click through these three levels of context menus to get to the 'write my own SQL query' option"...

This is fixed in the next version. Now you'll just click for the context menu, scroll two screens down to the "more" menu item, which will give you a dialog window with a dropdown box. The fifth item in the dropdown list is then "write my own SQL query". Select that and press OK to get there.

Re:And your asking slashdot? (2)

leenks (906881) | about 3 years ago | (#37631942)

Developers naturally want to build interfaces that are almost a one-to-one mapping to their (flexible?) API. This isn't necessarily what users expect.

IMO you can only build an appropriate user interface for a particular problem if you are an expert in that field yourself - the best advice I've been given is to learn the trade of your users first, then try and build the UI you would want as someone working in that trade.

6 pack design (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631482)

(warning, I have a migraine so this isn't meant to sound lucid)

-drink a 6 pack of beers
-see if whatever you've designed up still makes sense to you
-write down your impressions (or just record them)
-sober up
-make appropriate changes
-rinse, repeat

Re:6 pack design (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 3 years ago | (#37631702)

The problem with this approach is that before you've finished your product, you'll have finished your liver.

Re:6 pack design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631736)

This worked for designing windows (though they didn't sober up)

Currently reading, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631484)

To emphasize what msauve said... anything by Don Norman. Don't Make Me Think is also a good one... I'm currently reading 'Tapworthy - Designing Great iPhone Apps' by Josh Clark and it provides some decent thought into design specifically for the mobile space.

Starting-point (2)

frisket (149522) | about 3 years ago | (#37631546)

Check out the Usability Professionals Association [upassoc.org] for some excellent resources.

I work in a different area of usability, so I'm not up to speed on books specifically about app usability, but the principles in recent books will still largely apply. Have a look at About Face 2.0 [amazon.com] to get started. User-Centred Design (UCD) is the current way of thinking: there is some good background in Contextual Design [amazon.com] . There are of course, lots more...

Re:Starting-point (2)

plover (150551) | about 3 years ago | (#37632530)

For an online resource, the Usability Body of Knowledge can be found here: http://www.usabilitybok.org/ [usabilitybok.org]

Usability is just like any other software quality attribute. It can and should be tested. I've used usability labs quite a few times in the past 20 years, and they've always been of great value. I strongly recommend them, especially for a product that will go in front of random people. Our company has a permanent lab where they will test anything from a software application to operation instructions for a forklift.

The key is to have the designers themselves observe how ordinary people use their product. You can stuff all the books that fit into your brain, you can second guess what you think your mom wants to see, but nothing compares to seeing regular people actually try to use it. They should watch the subject get angry as they repeatedly click a button that gives no feedback that it did something. They should see the puzzlement in their faces as they try to figure out which of the eighteen choices will do what they want. They should see them wince at the awful color choices or tiny fonts, or ignore the blinking box labeled "click me" because they thought it looked like a web advertisement.

A valid experiment requires a good facilitator who understands usability, who can help you set up the test environment for optimum observation, and can select fair test subjects. He or she will keep you from unintentionally introducing bias. They can serve to intervene, when required. And they can teach you how to observe the subjects, while leaving the interpretation up to you.

I suspect you will learn more from running one valid experiment than you will from any book.

Re:Starting-point (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | about 3 years ago | (#37632788)

Check out the Usability Professionals Association [upassoc.org] for some excellent resources.

Too bad their website is such a cluttered mess built on what appears to be a default CMS template.

UX Books (1)

count0 (28810) | about 3 years ago | (#37631578)

So, it depends on what you're looking for, and who needs it.

I like Garrett's Elements of User Experience for a nice on ramp and introduction
I like Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery titles for understanding basics of usability and usability testing.
I like Unger's Project Guide to UX Design for an overall step by step.
I like Wodtke and Govella's Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web for a less prescriptive overall design process
I like Brown's Communicating Design for a great take on UX documentation
I like Kuniavsky's Observing the User Experience for a great take on ux research
I like Young's Mental Models for task focused research & great visualization & alignment of project functionality with user behavior
I like Norman's Design of Everyday Things for shifting the way you see usability and user experience in everyday life (and apply that to work)
Looking forward to Wroblewski's Mobile First, but it's not out for a couple weeks
Josh Clark's Tapworthy is a decent mobile design guide if you're only up for nuts and bolts instead of understanding internal combustion ;-)

Rosenfeld Media is a publisher that focuses exclusively on user experience and has some fantastic titles, including the mental model book already mentioned.
http://rosenfeldmedia.com/ [rosenfeldmedia.com]

And of course there's tons of great online resources and events - look for local UX Camps, local UX Bookclubs (http://uxbookclub.org)

If I had to choose just one? Design of Everyday Things changed how I see the world.

Basic advice (5, Insightful)

Caerdwyn (829058) | about 3 years ago | (#37631588)

You don't need a book for some of the most basic, important advice for usability... but a large number of developers seem to never have heard it.

Ready?

Do not look upon your users/customers with contempt.

This is a serious, widespread issue; just read the comments that techies have about people who are not themselves on places like ohhhh, say, Slashdot. Without sympathy for your customers, without a sense of humility in yourself, without the realization that people can be worthwhile, talented, productive and smart (yes, even smarter than YOU) yet not have the time or training or inclination to recompile their own Linux kernel or root their phone, you're going to produce awful user interfaces and workflows. You're going to amass a terrible reputation for bad customer support. You're going to have buggy software because you spend more time blaming the user than wondering if maybe your code isn't perfect.

And then you'll blame anyone except yourself.

All of the studies about icon size, color schemes, human motion studies, and cognitive science will be meaningless if you believe you need it "just because my customers are idiots".

Re:Basic advice (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | about 3 years ago | (#37631668)

THIS. A thousand times this.

Re:Basic advice (1)

guspasho (941623) | about 3 years ago | (#37631996)

Times a thousand times!

Re:Basic advice (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 3 years ago | (#37631858)

All of the studies about icon size, color schemes, human motion studies, and cognitive science will be meaningless if you believe you need it "just because my customers are idiots".

Golf clap. I would add the "seriously, who would actually want to use this" test. If you have developerS (plural) just set them down with each others designs and see how long it takes them to accomplish a very specific task. Their weaknesses will become apparent very fast. For the ones that still don't get it, have some customers/end users/whatever come in, and force the developer to stand in front of them and teach them how to use it cold turkey. I have watched this happen and it is a priceless learning experience, things that should have been obvious during design will stand out clear as day.

Re:Basic advice (1)

MrBandersnatch (544818) | about 3 years ago | (#37632658)

This is called "user testing" (DOH!) and its amazing how few (software products) products are user tested. A lot of products get "usability tested" but I don't think I've actually seen a developer at a usability test (and I agree with you, the REAL benefit of usability test is to teach developers how not to make the same old UI boo-boos; most companies like a piece of paper they can throw at developers) but I like your idea of "the developer as the instructor"..I can see a lot of room for growth there :)

As for the test you mention..,that's actually a bad one. Humanity is very diverse and surprising. I would have said that facebook should fail under that test...and how wrong I would have been.

Re:Basic advice (1)

Kohath (38547) | about 3 years ago | (#37631898)

Can we use this principle for government too?

Re:Basic advice (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 3 years ago | (#37632638)

It doesn't work when the citizens are overtly suicidal. Somebody ultimately needs to be worrying about the consequences of their actions, and if it isn't big business or the public at large, then it's probably going to have to be a governmental organization.

I hear that a lot from conservatives, but when you look at the areas of the country that they run, the people there aren't anymore responsible than folks in liberal areas, they just have much easier access to ways of ending themselves and less assistance making reasonable choices.

Re:Basic advice (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#37631918)

Then why do all the most widely hailed "usable" interfaces seem to be targeted at toddlers?

A good interface should be powerful, and well documented. If you start removing power to increase simplicity, then you are in fact treating your users with contempt.

Re:Basic advice (0)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 3 years ago | (#37632238)

Then why do all the most widely hailed "usable" interfaces seem to be targeted at toddlers?

Because to 99% of developers, 99.9% of users and 99.99% of blogtards, usable and pretty are synonyms.

To answer the original question, see how often it mentions "UX". If it's more than zero (not counting where it occurs in sentences with the words "anyone", "who", "uses", "it", "is", "a", "cunt") then avoid it like the plague. It was written by someone who wears a beret with a stalk and spends all day smoking colored cigarettes in a cafe.

Re:Basic advice (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632334)

THIS. A thousand times this.

Re:Basic advice (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 3 years ago | (#37632652)

Because most people are too afraid to be caught calling vi usable?

Re:Basic advice (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#37632702)

That's a great example. Vi is supremely usable, once you know how to use it. Anyone can pick up notepad and edit some text, but no matter how long you spend with notepad you'll never be more capable than you were the first day. Vi's usability increases without limit the longer you use it, and the more different things you do with it.

Re:Basic advice (1)

erko (806441) | about 3 years ago | (#37632112)

You can only understand this if your id is greater than 800000. :)

Re:Basic advice (1)

spads (1095039) | about 3 years ago | (#37632372)

Excellently true, though important corollary also pray god your users are not contemptible. If they are, RUN!!!!!

I concur with others it is not too bookable. It is mostly common sense (and RESPECT*). Second corollary, pray god your DEVELOPERS have basic common sense.

*What sustains you to work your way through to a good process.

Re:Basic advice (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | about 3 years ago | (#37632544)

Do not look upon your users/customers with contempt.

Some corollary concepts:

  • Accept that users may be using the product not only in a different way from your expectations, but for a different reason;
  • Do not take users' preferences personally;
  • Avoid pathological altruism [nytimes.com] .

Re:Basic advice (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 3 years ago | (#37632608)

That's sort of the thing there. Way too many interfaces these days are designed by graphic designers rather than people that know/care about usability. It's a good thing to have a set of keyboard shortcuts to handle every task, but the user should be able to find everything under a well organized menu of some sort.

Personally, I find the interface from VueScan to be an object lesson in powerful yet minimally cluttered. Options which do not function in the current mode don't show up at all. Leaving just the ones that the user might actually want to use. (Well the user might want those other ones, but they don't do anything so they aren't there.

I find vi to be one of the most usable text editors ever devised, but that did require a certain amount of study on my part to learn the shortcuts that I needed to work with it. Once I did learn a dozen or so commands, the program greatly increased my efficiency working with text files.

TL;DR, dumbing down an interface isn't the path to a usable interface.

Start with This (1)

RedLeg (22564) | about 3 years ago | (#37631604)

You lost me at "usability as science" (0)

c0d3g33k (102699) | about 3 years ago | (#37631656)

I don't know what else to say. My brain shut down after reading that phrase.

Re:You lost me at "usability as science" (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | about 3 years ago | (#37631824)

It is an experimental science. Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen are among its pioneers.

Re:You lost me at "usability as science" (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 3 years ago | (#37632302)

I don't know what else to say. My brain shut down after reading that phrase.

Are you sure it was switched on to start with?

Donald Norman's Design of Everyday things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631672)

Originally known as Psychology of Everyday Things AKA P.O.E.T. Look him up. Look the book up. Then smile when you walk into a "modern" door.

I'll tell you what to do (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 3 years ago | (#37631722)

Ensure access to some 2 year olds, have prototypes and watch them use the system. If they can figure it out, you are golden.

A book isn't enough (2)

uniquename72 (1169497) | about 3 years ago | (#37631724)

I'm a usability specialist surrounded by people (the actual decision-makers) who THINK they know all they need to know about design, even though none have actually every designed much of anything. My advice is this: Make all your people sit down and watch some usability testing videos. You can find some online, or maybe (hopefully) there are already some floating around where you work.

Make an event out of it -- bring in some popcorn and watch them together. There will be much laughter and fun-poking, but in the end they should get the point: NO ONE is really a usability expert. Even having done testing for the past 10 years and having a pretty good instinct for what will work and what won't, I learn EVERY SINGLE TIME I test someone. The things people do -- even smart, educated, computer-savvy people -- will amaze you and your employees.

Politically, having some of my coworkers watch some of my testing with real users is the smartest thing I ever did. It didn't fix all my usability-related problems, but it was a huge help.

Re:A book isn't enough (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37633000)

+1.

I'm a designer who's learned 1 thing in doing this for 15 years: you the designer is not right, the usabilty folks aren't right, developers aren't right, the customers aren't always right, and management is nearly never right. Delivering the goods is all about mixing everyone's input and needs to make something work and be successful.

My smartest move in my last company was to drag our arrogant engineers into user testing to watch their work they felt so strongly about get hammered by people the engs deeply respected. I never had a difficult time requesting customer reviews for feedback in scheduling after that.

It's hard to be "right" when you can't tell someone they're doing it wrong!

Designing Interfaces (1)

martinve (1233522) | about 3 years ago | (#37631738)

Designing Interfaces by Jennifer Tidwell http://www.amazon.com/Designing-Interfaces-Patterns-Effective-Interaction/dp/0596008031 [amazon.com] Actually you could be better of if you hired UX expert who makes the decisions regarding usability - the developers may not be the best people making usability related decisions.

Re:Designing Interfaces (1)

frankgod (218789) | about 3 years ago | (#37632880)

Seconded. But you should probably go for the newer edition.

A science? (1, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#37631844)

Usability is a personal preference. Some people like a UI that doesn't make them think. I like a UI that encourages me to think, because thinking is empowering. If I don't think while using an interface, I'll never find out what that interface is capable of, and I'll never increase my capabilities.

Usability is an art, not a science. You can't make an app that everyone will find usable, anymore than you can make a work of art that everyone will find asthetically appealing.

Re:A science? (1)

TuringTest (533084) | about 3 years ago | (#37632458)

Usability is an art, not a science. You can't make an app that everyone will find usable, anymore than you can make a work of art that everyone will find asthetically appealing.

The guy who wrote this book [wikipedia.org] (and helped design the Mac) would disagree.

Surely aesthetic is important to attain usability, but it's just one layer on the toolchain.

Human-computer Interface is just one API to which you can write on, by following certain calling patterns, while respecting the existing constraints to make it work properly. Writing to that API is an engineering feat, not an artistic one.

Re:A science? (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#37632666)

Human computer interface is not one API, but 7 billion different individual APIs. You can't optimally support all of them at once. There are always trade offs that lead to judgement calls. That's not a science, that's art.

For instance, I'd say that the original Mac is a really really bad interface. Why? No command line. How do you script anything!

Different stroks for different folks.

Re:A science? (1)

TuringTest (533084) | about 3 years ago | (#37632798)

BTW the original Mac did not get the final design from this guy; he later put his ideas into the book I linked above. They a mixture were a between a command line and a graphical text editor.

Read about GOMS and the Archy system (you can download and try it) to see how a command line can be made user-friendly.

Human computer interface is not one API, but 7 billion different individual APIs.

That's like saying that you can't script Unix because every copy of it in the world can have different settings. How about programming to what they have in common instead? (hint: humans, like all living things, are self-replicating so they share about 99.999999% of details in common).

Re:A science? (1)

icebraining (1313345) | about 3 years ago | (#37632670)

You can't make a drug or treatment which works for everyone, but that doesn't mean that medicine isn't a science.

Usability Blog (1)

Luchio (782557) | about 3 years ago | (#37631892)

I love reading http://www.usabilityblog.com/ [usabilityblog.com] , which contains real world examples from around the web, and proposes applicable solutions. Learned a few tricks there.

Re:Usability Blog (1)

Luchio (782557) | about 3 years ago | (#37632022)

Well, I actually meant to post this one: http://www.usabilitypost.com/archive/ [usabilitypost.com] but I guess that the one I just posted is fine too...!

hmmmm (1)

nomadic (141991) | about 3 years ago | (#37631896)

However, as I'm growing a team of developers now, I've noticed that most of the young ones have a very poor sense of usability.

Really? Based on the history of software design, it seems the older developers are the worst when it comes to usability. For most of the 80's and 90's software tended to be extremely poorly designed from a UI standpoint.

AskTog (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37631940)

The site design leaves something to be desired, but http://www.asktog.com/ [asktog.com] is a really good resource that I wish more developers, _especially_ open source developers, read more often. Half of my ideas on Ubuntu Brainstorm are lifted from AskTog.

About Face (1)

MoleyGhost (1065694) | about 3 years ago | (#37631968)

Alan Cooper's About Face: Essentials of Interaction Design is pretty timely and gives a lot of insights on different types of platforms and applications. Start there, and with Krug.

I had one ... (1)

QuasiRob (134012) | about 3 years ago | (#37632004)

... but I threw it away after reading it once.

New Book: Designing Mobile Interfaces (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632032)

I (and my co-author) are around a month from getting our book on more or less this exact topic out the door. A pattern book not totally unlike Tidwell's, but all mobile-specific, and plenty of discussion of principles, cognitive psychology, physiology, and other stuff you need as a background.

Pre-order from Amazon (or just look at the pretty Lovebird that O'Reilly gave us):
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1449394639/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=4ourthmobile-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=1449394639

Or, get most of the exact same content (minus many copy edits, etc.) for free here:
http://4ourth.com/wiki/Index

Do all make them read Don't Make Me Think, and many of the other things suggested.

Learning HCI at Uni (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632122)

I'm learning HCI at Uni at the moment, the books we were assigned are:

Interaction Design: beyond human-computer interaction by Sharp (2011) and Effective Human-Computer Interaction by Shneiderman & Plaisant(2010).

They are both very up to date and relevant.

"The Inmates are Running the Asylum" (Alan Cooper) (1)

__roo (86767) | about 3 years ago | (#37632134)

The Inmates are Running the Asylum [amazon.com] by Alan Cooper is one of the best books on usability I've ever read. It's entertaining, highly thoughtful, and contains a lot of timeless lessons about usability and UX. My favorite story in the book is a case study of the software bundled with the Logitech ScanMan. They used personas to understand their users and strip out all of the extraneous features, and instead concentrate on making a much smaller feature set easier to use:

What surprised us was that every one of the test subjects expressed the opinion that Peacock was the “most powerful.” In literal terms of the number of features, this was far from true. In terms of effective power realized by the user, we had increased it significantly. page 141

Re:"The Inmates are Running the Asylum" (Alan Coop (1)

am 2k (217885) | about 3 years ago | (#37632574)

One more vote from me. "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" completely changed the way I think about usability. Now I consider user testing as part of usability design a flawed idea, because once you've got something to test and see that doesn't work, you either have to scrap months of work, or you just go with it anyways (making the whole testing useless). That book teaches the reader how to get it right in the first place, and conceive interfaces you wouldn't even have thought of (which user testing can't do either).

not a book, but still a good read (1)

fmobus (831767) | about 3 years ago | (#37632148)

you should read Bret Victor's Magic Ink [worrydream.com] essay. He goes about breaking this fill-submit-wait-for-return paradigm we currently have for everything on the web, proposing instead designs that answer to user parameters more quickly. His flight ticket UI example is wonderful, but so far I haven't seen any implementation of that.

The Father of Formalizing Useability (1)

bellwould (11363) | about 3 years ago | (#37632162)

Hold a usability trial... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632258)

The best book on usability I know is old but timeless, "The Design Of Everyday Things" by Donald Norman. It's a fabulous book.

Usability isn't all personal preference: think about color blind people who make up 15% of the population, or icons that have no meaning in certain cultures.

The best advice I can offer: hold a usability trial, and then improve the interface. My edition is old, but look at some of the sample evaluation forms in Ben Shneiderman's "Designing the User Interface".

Jacob Neilson & useit.com (1)

The Raven (30575) | about 3 years ago | (#37632308)

There is a wealth of information about usability, both for the web and in general, on this site. Years and years of articles. Many of the best ones are in the first few years, but there are nice ones scattered throughout. I recommend going through the bolded (most popular) articles, and send them links to relevant articles as issues come up.

List of good books to consider (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632322)

I feel your pain. I deal with this everyday. Here's a good list of resources to start with.

Books:
"Designing with the Mind in Mind" by: Jeff Johnson
"Undercover User Experience Design" by : Cenntdd Bowles and James Box
"Simple and Usable Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design" by :Giles Colborne
"100 things designers should know about people" by : Susan Weinschenk

Sites:
http://uxmag.com
http://www.uie.com
http://www.uxmatters.com
http://uxmovement.com
http://www.uxbooth.com

Hope this helps

Telemetry (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | about 3 years ago | (#37632474)

Usablity is a problem just cannot be solved at a programmers desk. Part of the problem is developers use computers in a fundamentally different way to 99% of the rest of the population (commandline etc) and have a fundamentally different mental aptitude to users. There's no subsititute for getting people into a lab and watching what they do and even just asking them just to point out what they don't like and throw suggestions out there. You'll find what made sense at design time turns out to be not so good, perhaps a disaster. You'll perhaps find you didn't do enough designing and got into coding.

This is how Apple, Microsoft and others do it, and how some others with famous usability problems don't.

Radical suggestion, but consider the primary purpose of your application. If it's to be used by people (ie it's not a server), then usability and interface should of course be your number one consideration before the first line of code is even written. 99% of the IT world does not think like that, hence the horrific state of user interfaces.

Rocky road (1)

courcoul (801052) | about 3 years ago | (#37632492)

Almost sounds like a trick question.

In spite of Apple's best efforts, the GUI is still much connected to cultural artifacts and, hence, is very difficult to come up with a Universal GUI understood and liked by all. There are, granted, some universal constructs, but these seem to be of a very general nature and you quickly run into a wall when digging into the specifics.

I would like to dream that a beneficial effect of globalization will be that us humans will eventually come to a common understanding. Maybe my great grandchildren will live long enough to see that, I we don't blow ourselves up first. Oh, and I have to get working on engendering a few kids first... :p

Have a look at the same question on Stackoverflow (1)

debrain (29228) | about 3 years ago | (#37632528)

It has a great list, and may have what you're looking for: Book recommendations - Web Usability [stackoverflow.com] .

Software Usability Research Lab - surl.org (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632802)

You might check out the Software Usability Research Lab (SURL) at http://www.surl.org. They release a research oriented newsletter a couple of times a year. Also, Don Norman, Jakob Nielsen, and Steve Krug are all great resources.

Learn by example (1)

frankgod (218789) | about 3 years ago | (#37632930)

Whenever you design any sort of UI you should look for some sort of example. Say what you like but it's usually best to find some part of Windows and make your interface work similarly. Young developers haven't yet learned that in most cases you actually can't do better than Microsoft.

Mobile First (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37632984)

With regards to Mobile, consider this (which will be released shortly):

http://www.abookapart.com/products/mobile-first

The author is basically a genius.

Developers != Designers (1)

Aralic (563142) | about 3 years ago | (#37633004)

Developers aren't user-interface creators. I hope you aren't hoping to treat them as such. In my world, developers are generally too technical to design interfaces, unless those interfaces are mere copies of existing paradigms - their minds are just wired to fix a problem, not to fix it in the most elegant way from a user's standpoint. If you don't have dedicated "human factors" teams or Marketing teams that can do this, you are in a tough position. Developers certainly have some useful insight into what works and doesn't, but I wouldn't ever require them to design the thing from scratch. I'm not saying you can't find some books that will help improve their skills on the subject, but I hope you're going in with the correct goal in mind...

Wrong question! (1)

MrBandersnatch (544818) | about 3 years ago | (#37633026)

Disclaimer: Professional in usability/UX, Software "engineer", hacker, drunk, etc

Usable software isn't developed by someone knowing something from a book. Its part of a process, you can substitute methodology/ideology if you wish. If your company isn't committed, you might chance on a usable app with your techniques/processes/developers/tenmillionmonkeys, but HOW WILL YOU KNOW?

Want to know a good methodology to run with? Well there isn't one, all have deficiencies, some have certain benefits but its usually a trade off; best advice: get someone competent in charge of user experience. If that doesn't fly, serious suggestion: if usability is a real concern (and to be honest, its a bottom line concern although most companies don't get that), get in some professionals to run a usability test (recruitment, premises, recording, transcripts, hosting - real world costs money even if you don't want reporting), have your developers attend the test and the repeat the test after they are supposed to have dealt with the issues. Its like a code review except with real people telling you just how much you have improved, with deadlines and real metrics (how much your code sucks to someone you don't know).

Key here is the word "developers". I am seriously SICK of seeing marketing/execs in usability tests. They are the LAST people who should be there (and I mean that, they need to come in AFTER the developers have finished unless they are the sort who can keep an open mind); the developers have the most to learn and most to contribute from seeing how real users perform with their code yet usually they are excluded.

Sorry, too many brews, I would have loved to have posted a response in a less fatigued and fugued condition.

Ran across the same problem (1)

BenSnyder (253224) | about 3 years ago | (#37633032)

A buddy of mine and I recently decided to start collaborating together to try to learn what we could about web usability. We're posting articles and a weekly podcast about what we're finding at betteruserexperience.wordpress.com [wordpress.com] .

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