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Book Review: Designing With the Mind In Mind

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Books 52

benrothke (2577567) writes "Neurologists and brain scientists are in agreement that in truth, we know very little about how the brain works. With that, in the just released second edition of Designing with the Mind in Mind, a Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines, author Jeff Johnson provides a fascinating introduction on the fundamentals of perceptual and cognitive psychology for effective user interface (UI) design and creation." Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.Johnson heads up a consulting firm that specialized in evaluating and designing UI and brings significant experience to every chapter. He writes that following user-interface design guidelines is not as straightforward as something like following a cooking recipe; even though people often compare the two. Design rules often describe goals rather than actions, as they are purposefully very general to make them broadly applicable. The downside to that is that it means that their exact meaning and applicability to specific design situations is open to interpretation.

With that, the book provides an exceptional foundation on how to ensure effective usability is successfully implemented. The book spends a long time detailing how users make decisions and choices.

What's really good about the book is that Johnson provides ample details about the topic, but doesn't reduce it to so just a set of rules or mind-numbing (and thusly unreadable) checklists. His synopsis of the topics provides the reader with a broad understanding of the topic and what they need to do in order to ensure effective UI design is executed.

While the focus in the book is heaving on general and cognitive psychology, the book is written for the reader who is a novice in the area, and stays quite practical, without getting in the vague theoretical areas.

The book provides scores of examples of how people relate to an interface, and how to design accordingly. One of many fascinating examples is when the author details the notion of attentional blink. After we see or hear something, either in real-life or on a monitor, for a very brief amount of time following the recognition, between .15 and .45 of a second; we are nearly deaf and blind to other visual stimuli, even though our eyes and ears stay functional. Researchers call this attentional blink and it is thought to be caused by the brain's perceptual and attentional mechanism being briefly fully occupied with processing the first recognition.

What this means for a UI designer is that attentional blink can cause the user to miss information or events if things appear in rapid succession. The book then goes on to describe techniques in which to create an effective UI to deal with the effects of attentional blink. And he does this for scores of other similar issues.

Another fascinating example is around visual hierarchy, which lets people focus on the relevant information. The book notes that one of the most important goals in arranging information presentations is to provide a visual hierarchy, an arrangement that breaks the information into distinct sections, labels each section prominently, and presents the sections and subsections as a hierarchy.

The book details the myriad areas which are crucial for an effective interface. Chapters 4 and 5 provide significant detail about the importance of color for effective visual representation.

As the title suggests, the book takes a deep approach to the neuroscience and psychology in UI design. Other chapters include topics on human vision, sound, task, cognition, memory and more.

As to memory, chapter details issues around the working memory of a user. He gives numerous examples of error boxes and help screens that work and are epic failures, and how to do it right. The classic example he provides is a 4-step Windows XP wireless error message. If the user were to follow the directions, the instructions would close after step 1.

Each chapter provides numerous implications of proper and improper design, and provides the needed recommendations. While the topics may sound dry, Johnson writes in an engaging and often humorous style.

The book clearly and empirically shows how effective UI design makes all the difference on how users interact with an application or web site. The book will certainly be an important reference to software designers, web designers, web application designers and those interested in HCI, and usability.

For the designers that can't understand why their users are frustrated, they can understand why here. For designers that really want to know what is going on in their users minds, one is hard pressed to find a better reference than this.

As the subtitle of the book is Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines, the book is an invaluable resource for those serious about effective UI design.

Reviewed by Ben Rothke.

You can purchase Designing with the Mind in Mind, a Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Great Book (4, Interesting)

coop247 (974899) | about 6 months ago | (#46861625)

I taught about a half of a semester of an HCI course with the 1st version and loved it. The examples are fantastic, the students liked reading it (well, compared to how much students generally like things).

Re:Great Book (3)

Steve_Ussler (2941703) | about 6 months ago | (#46861749)

Good point. If more programmers spent time on this and HCI, and less on flashy graphics, etc.things would be a lot more usable. and we would have much less software vulnerabilities

emphasis of GUI efforts (4, Insightful)

Doug Merritt (3550) | about 6 months ago | (#46861935)

I think that you being modded down to -1 is a bit much, but there is a problem here. What you said is potentially well and good for contexts that are purely utilitarian to the degree that anything but pure pragmatic functionality is to be viewed as an active negative, such as industrial control, power plants, etc.

But for most people's desktops, people expect both functionality *and* some degree of modern aesthetics, and there is an extremely common rejection of interfaces that look 15 years old, even if they were considered close to ideally functional and aesthetic 15 years ago.

Since that is demonstrably what the market generally wants, that is therefore the general trend over time: "flashy graphics" are sometimes overdone, but the word "flashy" is in the eye of the beholder, and most improvements to GUIs over the decades have been about modernization to meet the moving target of whatever "modern" means in each era, with actual breakthroughs in usability being far less common.

Furthermore, the people who design and implement GUIs are (with the exception of 1-person development teams) rarely the same team members who would address software vulnerabilities, so maybe that's where your -1 came from.

Re:emphasis of GUI efforts (1)

Steve_Ussler (2941703) | about 6 months ago | (#46862003)

::::I think that you being modded down to -1 is a bit much What does that mean?

Re:emphasis of GUI efforts (1)

Doug Merritt (3550) | about 6 months ago | (#46862059)

"a bit much" is an idiomatic way in English of saying "possibly you shouldn't have been modded down so much for that statement" (because the first part of what you said is arguable, not an obvious troll, not obviously flamebait, not an obviously incorrect statement of fact).

Re:emphasis of GUI efforts (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | about 6 months ago | (#46862447)

I don't think he's modded down, I think he's posting at -1.

Re:emphasis of GUI efforts (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46863607)

Good point ... the Slashdot UI didn't make that obvious.

Re:Great Book (1)

PHPNerd (1039992) | about 6 months ago | (#46861977)

I teach HCI at a college in Texas. I have used this book to provide background information for my lectures, but I've never had them read it. Frankly, we just don't have time in an undergrad class to read Design of Everyday Things (Norman) and Don't Make Me Think (Krug) and discuss and apply in a single undergrad semester. However, next year I'm going to teach a second semester of the course for the first time, and I think I'll finally get to dig into DWMIM (especially now that there's a second edition).

Me too! (1)

bussdriver (620565) | about 6 months ago | (#46863651)

I am ordering the book for use in my class... any ideas on how we could use it in a course?

Perhaps the parent, you and I could devise coursework around this book? (I've not read it yet.)

As far as those other two books, I recommend them in the class for those who are interested. I've considered assigning Everyday Things... I have little trouble extracting the homework time they are supposed to be using for a 4 credit course... probably because it's required and I'm the only person who teaches it (and I make sure they know this.) So, I can force them to actually work and I will flunk them all if need be; without any regret or harming myself (now if I did that routinely, I'd lose the job... but you only need to establish the reputation and keep the rumors going.)

Re:Me too! (1)

PHPNerd (1039992) | about 6 months ago | (#46893463)

I'd be happy to work with you on this. Send me an email: jrp09a AT acu DOT edu

Re:Great Book (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46866701)

"Neurologists and brain scientists are in agreement that in truth, we know very little about how the brain works

This statement comes from a complete denial of the validity of the work produced by Lilly, Leary, Dass and others who actually found out how the brain works.
With the pretense of the above statement, on what grounds is this book or your teaching valid? Or your department for that matter? Hmmph, rank amateurs.
Its comforting to know that neurology had developed a wonderful system of finding out how rats brains work, it should be handy if there is ever a widespread problem with the future of rats.

If you are repaying your student loan, stop, its just a ponzie scheme.

Illiterate American cretins... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46861777)

"a fascinating introduction on the fundamentals"

It's TO, not 'on', you fucking retarded ignoramuses. What is it with Americans and prepositions? It seems that the shortest words are the ones you find most difficult.

Re:Illiterate American cretins... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46861809)

I would rather deal with a moral person with poor grammar, than an angry person like you with such vulgar language.

Re:Illiterate American cretins... (0)

RustyTheCat (2937655) | about 6 months ago | (#46862739)

Agreed.

Re:Illiterate American cretins... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46864541)

Chill little boi.

Re:Illiterate American cretins... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46864551)

For someone who drives on the wrong side of the road and eats Marmite....shuddup!

Re:Illiterate American cretins... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46865173)

You a jerk! and a big one!

Same guy who wrote GUI bloopers apparently. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 6 months ago | (#46861785)

Image search: https://www.google.com/search?... [google.com] sa=X&ei=b6JeU6HtBcW62gW2gIGgBQ&ved=0CE4QsAQ&biw=1430&bih=962

Re:Same guy who wrote GUI bloopers apparently. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46862537)

So what?

Like that's a bad thing?

Re:Same guy who wrote GUI bloopers apparently. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 6 months ago | (#46864545)

Clickers who clicked your link also liked clicking this link. [thedailywtf.com]

UI design? Win7 & Win 8 suck for ui (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46861795)

Most annoying: the "show desktop" button used to be at the bottom left of the screen in winXP.

In later versions of windows this was moved to the bottom right.

Our helpdesk still gets calls about this.

Moving things for no apparent reason, with no benefit, is NOT good ui design

Re:UI design? Win7 & Win 8 suck for ui (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46865177)

Actually...2nd most annoying!

will everything grow to exclude advanced users? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46861817)

Every single time I've seen "user interface experts" decide how something should operate, it ends up designed for the LCD, to the exclusion of people who become experts at whatever the software is. You're only a novice for a short time, but you can be an expert for a long time.

The most productive software I've ever used has not been deisgned by user interface experts.

Bring back design by experts, for experts, and I'll be happy. Even if it's something I've never used before, I'd rather spend the time to get good at a productive interface, than an easy to use interface. Hell, even if I'll only ever use it once in my life, because in the aggregate, it's a net win when measured across all the tools I will use.

Re:will everything grow to exclude advanced users? (3, Insightful)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 6 months ago | (#46861981)

Sure, you can just force the user to do everything with keyboard shortcuts, and just get rid of menus and buttons altogether. It will make an expert at the software fast as hell, after the months/years it will take to learn every shortcut. But that's *NOT* a GUI. And you're pretty much handicapping any software designed that way to forever remain obscure.

A good GUI lets even a newbie begin using software to do basic stuff right off the bat. You can keep the shortcuts for the pros. But a good GUI doesn't put up a roadblock for new users, it provides a path for new users to learn.

Re:will everything grow to exclude advanced users? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 6 months ago | (#46862323)

Most kids in my highschool were quite proficient with the Wordperfect 5.1. There was no GUI and we all learned the keyboard shortcuts fast enough. The problem that I see, is that if you give people a way to do things without using the keyboard shortcuts, then they will never learn. Most people I know who aren't programmers don't even understand basic shortcuts like Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V let alone more complicated stuff.

profiling and statistics are to blame (1)

bussdriver (620565) | about 6 months ago | (#46863389)

Apple has been going downhill as the result of doing things like others in industry have been doing: using profiling and statistics gathered from user's use of their software.

Instead of thinking about themselves (advanced users) and thinking about what they've learned about novices and creating compromise solutions. They are taking the easy way out and using profiling of huge numbers of users they gather simple statistics from. This then guides them too strongly in making the decisions they do. This ALSO causes a bias towards the majority of users, who are clueless and undermines any motives to add subtle things for advanced users (because it takes effort to design something for beginners and advanced users while keeping them both happy.)

Observing a user go over the menus looking for a feature lets you know that is working for them but when you have stats showing that most people rarely ever use the menus leads you to conclude you should get rid of the menu bar because people don't use it enough. Or even remove rarely used features that are still important to the users but don't show that importance with your statistics modeling.

Advanced users may block your profiling or opt out (firefox asks) so your profile is of a different demographic - not your whole user base.

Then there is the argument that people are getting more stupid; years of not having to solve any problems for themselves makes them adverse to figuring things out. Even simple stuff like building something from legos is a problem for more children today. If your software provides smart features which you can combine in various ways to get MANY things accomplished it could be that today's users are less capable of putting the steps together to perform a task! They may need wizards to hand hold them down a rigid path.... like a lot of typical consumer software does and phone apps seem to go towards (simple apps with a narrow focus... just use more apps and if you are lucky combine the results... if possible.)

Re:will everything grow to exclude advanced users? (1)

radarskiy (2874255) | about 6 months ago | (#46863277)

Every single time I've seen "tool experts" complain that the user interface is excluding experts, it ends up that the so-called expert can be objectively measured to be doing things unproductively.

Re:will everything grow to exclude advanced users? (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 6 months ago | (#46864197)

Then they are not user interface experts. Their "expertise" lies in user experience, this fuzzy, ill-conceived, form-before-function bullshit that's been plaguing software design in recent years.

A user interface does exactly what it says: it creates an abstractive layer, for purpose of efficiency, that enables one to interface with a system, but requires some amount of knowledge so that doesn't make (incorrect) assumptions without the user's approval.

User experience is the lazy approach that caters to the dumbest common denominator. The correct approach is to use multiple and/or configurable user interfaces that scale with users' level of savvy (two are usually enough)

Re: most productive software (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46867913)

The most productive software I've ever used has not been designed by user interface experts.

You mean like vi/vim and emacs?

Illiterates... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46861825)

"but doesn't reduce it to SO just a set of rules"

"While the focus in the book is HEAVING on general and cognitive psychology"

WTF? I gave up reading at that point.

Re:Illiterates... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46861939)

::: Illiterates...

You seem to not know the definition of illiterate.

A grammar mistake or spelling mistake is NOT being illiterate.

Irony!

Re:Illiterates... (1)

RustyTheCat (2937655) | about 6 months ago | (#46862797)

Seems to me like nothing more than a few typing errors and certainly not worth such and extreme reaction. I found the article to be enjoyable and informative and it is unfortunate that you did not.

Re:Illiterates... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46864847)

You are rational.
He is not.

That explains it all.

UI fail (0)

srussia (884021) | about 6 months ago | (#46861855)

tl;dr

Also, while we're at it... Beta!

I'll pitch in. (2)

NMBob (772954) | about 6 months ago | (#46862117)

Someone should buy a copy for Apple, Inc., iOS division, and probably OSX division in the future.

Re:I'll pitch in. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46862379)

Why?

No one does UI better than Apple.

Low-contrast UI (2)

just_a_monkey (1004343) | about 6 months ago | (#46862603)

Chapters 4 and 5 provide significant detail about the importance of color for effective visual representation.

Could the Windows and Google designers are be wrong? Is an all-white-and-very-light-grey interface not optimal? Heresy!

Re:Low-contrast UI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46862635)

Windoes - yes.

Google - no way!

Re:Low-contrast UI (3, Interesting)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 6 months ago | (#46863833)

The problem with using color, of course, is that a certain group of people are color blind.

I'm reminded of an old friend of mine who is red/green color blind. He was trying to troubleshoot a problem with a router which had a light above each plug which would show red if there was a problem or green if it was good. Needless to say, he could tell the light was on but he couldn't tell if it was green or red. He had to grab someone else and have them sit there and say whether connections were red or green.

Color is good to use, but make sure that you have some sort of redundant information. Don't use a red checkmark for bad and a green checkmark for good, for example, without having some piece of redundant information (e.g., the word "Failed") after it.

Re:Low-contrast UI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46864515)

True.

But for most people who aren't colour blind, it does make a big difference.

Color blindness is soon to be a solved problem. (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 6 months ago | (#46864659)

The problem with using color, of course, is that a certain group of people are color blind.

I'm reminded of an old friend of mine who is red/green color blind.

My grandfather is Red Green Colorblind. If he survives another 12 years or so 3D printed organs may sustain his life long enough for him to get digital cameras as occular implants, and cure his color blindness.

Until then, I gave him a smartphone and installed one of the many color identifying apps. [google.com] He has since replaced it with a non-talking app that allows one to zoom in and display the hex color code of the camera's video input or pictures... Don't remember what it's called off the top of my head, but this "color picker / identifier" should come standard on phones -- I mean, auto white balance is doing just that anyway. It's a failure in accessibility that the data is not surfacable in the default UI.

Re:Low-contrast UI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46864901)

they are but what... 5%?

Re:Low-contrast UI (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 6 months ago | (#46865131)

Actually, about 7-10%. Some amusing trivia, also, is that red-green color blindness is an exclusively male affliction. Furthermore, about 8% of people have some issue with color. It may not be as obvious as "blindness"--it may just be that you don't have as many receptors. So that bright red that is supposed to attract people's attention may not be so bright.

It's also my understanding that, when using shades, women see more shades of color than men do. Which explains why when you go shopping with a woman and she says, "That's more of an autumn than a red," when you suggest she check out that "red dress," don't argue with her. She's probably right.

Again, nothing wrong with using color. Just don't use it as the only indicator of status.

Re:Low-contrast UI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46866977)

It's also my understanding that, when using shades, women see more shades of color than men do.

You may be thinking of tetrachromacy [wikipedia.org] which may be a mostly-female or female-only phenomenon due to genetics, but only one has been found [digitaljournal.com] so far.

Re:Low-contrast UI (1)

Steve_Ussler (2941703) | about 6 months ago | (#46889977)

It is really that high?

Re:Low-contrast UI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46865531)

I may be piggy-backing here (I'm not sure what just_a_monkey is advocating), but: ever since Office 2007, I've had to look at *other* apps (like Firefox) to tell whether an Office app has focus. The distinction between an Office app that's focused and one that isn't is way too subtle (and no, I'm not color blind).

BTW, the capcha here at Slashdot took ten seconds to show up after I clicked "Preview". In its place was text saying "If you can't see this, email us at" (the rest of the msg was cut off by the box the capcha was supposed to appear in). I wonder how long it would take to get a response to an email about a missing capcha...)

Re:Low-contrast UI (1)

just_a_monkey (1004343) | about 6 months ago | (#46872799)

The same. I never had any problems with windows 3 (black text on white), 95 (black on grey) or XP (white on blue), but the text and interactive and informational elements windows 7 UI is all much harder to use for me, because they blend the text into the background, or look like they are part of the background.

How do you get decision-makers to follow it? (2)

dpbsmith (263124) | about 6 months ago | (#46864869)

It's nice to hear about UI research, but at the moment _nobody seems to be making use of the UI research that's already been done._

Consider, for example, the current fad for "mystery meat" UIs (affordances that can't be seen and thus can't be found unless you already know where they are). What's with that? Haven't designers read "The Design of Everyday Things?" Heck, haven't they read the 1983 edition of "Inside Macintosh?"

Re:How do you get decision-makers to follow it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46865183)

Wow...you really hit the nail on the head...what's the answer?

Re:How do you get decision-makers to follow it? (2)

stepho-wrs (2603473) | about 6 months ago | (#46865835)

Alan Cooper (the father of Visual Basic) had an excellent book called 'About Face'. He made that exact point about GUI controls having affordance.

Re:How do you get decision-makers to follow it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46866455)

you have a link to the book?

Re:How do you get decision-makers to follow it? (1)

Steve_Ussler (2941703) | about 6 months ago | (#46889871)

Read it...awesome book!
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