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UX books for programmers

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  • Robert Gravina
    Hello list, We ve all probably worked on (or at least been users of) your typical database-driven web-application which basically exposes the database tables
    Message 1 of 13 , Dec 7, 2009
      Hello list,

      We've all probably worked on (or at least been users of) your typical
      database-driven web-application which basically exposes the database
      tables underneath as a series of index/create/show/update/delete pages
      without much thought into what the users are trying to use the system
      for. They usually "work", but there is so much missed potential, users
      don't really like it, and the programmer thinks there's absolutely
      nothing wrong with it :) I kid! I am a programmer and like to think
      that I can see that this scenario is far from perfect, and I've been
      guilty of making applications like this myself too. It usually happens
      because this type of interface is the simplest to create and there
      wasn't any effort put into design. I'm not going to perpretrate the
      myth that the programmer was so blind as to think users would love
      this interface!

      Let's say you're a programmer maintaining an application like this.
      What can you do to transform the experience into something more
      user-focused, an application which serves the *user* and not the
      database? Sure, time should have been invested in understanding the
      users earlier on but what can be done about it now? Which leads me to
      the question I really wanted to ask....

      Does anyone have any books/resources they can recommend for a)
      learning the basics of UX in the context of web applications and b)
      learning techniques for refactoring not-so-good UIs into something
      better?

      Robert
    • Jeremy Kriegel
      I liked the way the first half of The Inmates are Running the Asylum humorously sets up how to approach this problem.
      Message 2 of 13 , Dec 7, 2009
        I liked the way the first half of The Inmates are Running the Asylum humorously sets up how to approach this problem.


        -jer

        "Be well, do good work & keep in touch."
            - Garrison Keillor


        On Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 11:44 AM, Robert Gravina <robert@...> wrote:
         

        Hello list,

        We've all probably worked on (or at least been users of) your typical
        database-driven web-application which basically exposes the database
        tables underneath as a series of index/create/show/update/delete pages
        without much thought into what the users are trying to use the system
        for. They usually "work", but there is so much missed potential, users
        don't really like it, and the programmer thinks there's absolutely
        nothing wrong with it :) I kid! I am a programmer and like to think
        that I can see that this scenario is far from perfect, and I've been
        guilty of making applications like this myself too. It usually happens
        because this type of interface is the simplest to create and there
        wasn't any effort put into design. I'm not going to perpretrate the
        myth that the programmer was so blind as to think users would love
        this interface!

        Let's say you're a programmer maintaining an application like this.
        What can you do to transform the experience into something more
        user-focused, an application which serves the *user* and not the
        database? Sure, time should have been invested in understanding the
        users earlier on but what can be done about it now? Which leads me to
        the question I really wanted to ask....

        Does anyone have any books/resources they can recommend for a)
        learning the basics of UX in the context of web applications and b)
        learning techniques for refactoring not-so-good UIs into something
        better?

        Robert


      • Robert Gravina
        2009/12/7 Jeremy Kriegel ... Thanks. I think I need a laugh right about now :). Has anyone read Coopers other book (About Face 3) - I ve heard
        Message 3 of 13 , Dec 7, 2009
          2009/12/7 Jeremy Kriegel <jer@...>
          > I liked the way the first half of The Inmates are Running the Asylum humorously sets up how to approach this problem.

          Thanks. I think I need a laugh right about now :). Has anyone read
          Coopers other book (About Face 3) - I've heard it's a bit of an
          interaction design classic, and the UX people I've worked with in the
          path seemed to be doing something like the Cooper method. Although the
          book says it's relevant for "web 2.0 sites", it does seem to have a
          GUI focus (based on the table of contents, Part III seems to be very
          GUI focussed as it covers menus, toolbars, etc.).

          Can anyone comment? Is it still worth a read?

          Robert
        • Tim Wright
          Designing Interfaces by Tidwell might be a starter - it presents user interface patterns that you might be able to refactor around.
          Message 4 of 13 , Dec 7, 2009
            Designing Interfaces by Tidwell might be a starter - it presents user interface patterns that you might be able to refactor around. http://designinginterfaces.com/

            However, that won't help with the greater problem - an understanding of what your users are trying to achieve. Without that your re-factoring won't necessarily take you toward a better interface.

            There are a couple of approaches to this. I prefer Constantine & Lockwood's approach - it's based in use case models and use cases to define the interaction necessary for a user to achieve a goal. The models used are quite abstract and, therefore, harder to explain. However, the power you get from the abstraction is quite extraordinary (and once you "get it" they're easy and fast to use too).

            The more well known methodology is Cooper's Personas and Scenarios. It has the advantage that the models are quite concrete and easy to understand and use. This is discussed in the book Jeremy recommended below (which is an awesome book).

            Neilson's "usability engineering" is still a classic - it's based around understanding the changes you need to make by performing usability tests. Then you can prioritize the changes with the greatest benefit to your users.

            Finally, there's always Norman's "design of everyday things". This will give you a great understanding of the problem in user interface design and an appreciation of how often we get it wrong.

            Tim

            On Tue, Dec 8, 2009 at 7:45 AM, Jeremy Kriegel <jer@...> wrote:
             

            I liked the way the first half of The Inmates are Running the Asylum humorously sets up how to approach this problem.



            -jer

            "Be well, do good work & keep in touch."
                - Garrison Keillor



            On Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 11:44 AM, Robert Gravina <robert@...> wrote:
             

            Hello list,

            We've all probably worked on (or at least been users of) your typical
            database-driven web-application which basically exposes the database
            tables underneath as a series of index/create/show/update/delete pages
            without much thought into what the users are trying to use the system
            for. They usually "work", but there is so much missed potential, users
            don't really like it, and the programmer thinks there's absolutely
            nothing wrong with it :) I kid! I am a programmer and like to think
            that I can see that this scenario is far from perfect, and I've been
            guilty of making applications like this myself too. It usually happens
            because this type of interface is the simplest to create and there
            wasn't any effort put into design. I'm not going to perpretrate the
            myth that the programmer was so blind as to think users would love
            this interface!

            Let's say you're a programmer maintaining an application like this.
            What can you do to transform the experience into something more
            user-focused, an application which serves the *user* and not the
            database? Sure, time should have been invested in understanding the
            users earlier on but what can be done about it now? Which leads me to
            the question I really wanted to ask....

            Does anyone have any books/resources they can recommend for a)
            learning the basics of UX in the context of web applications and b)
            learning techniques for refactoring not-so-good UIs into something
            better?

            Robert



          • Jeanne Hallock
            Joel on Software is an extremely good (web) read for developers to get an understanding of UI:
            Message 5 of 13 , Dec 7, 2009
              Joel on Software is an extremely good (web) read for developers to get an understanding of UI:
               
              On his home page, he has numerous blog articles under 'Software Designer' in the center green-ish column, which are more updated than the previous link. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/
            • Peter Boersma
              ... for a) I d currently recommend Communicating Design - Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning by Dan Brown
              Message 6 of 13 , Dec 7, 2009
                Robert asked:
                > Does anyone have any books/resources they can recommend for a)
                > learning the basics of UX in the context of web applications and b)
                > learning techniques for refactoring not-so-good UIs into something
                > better?

                for a) I'd currently recommend "Communicating Design - Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning" by Dan Brown (http://www.communicatingdesign.com/). You can learn a lot from books like this.

                but b) takes practice; I'd try and arrange a workshop where you (have someone(*)) show the steps one could take to design a good/better interface (user research, design, evaluate), practice it, critique it (honest feedback, good and bad points) and have people collectively write down the lessons learned (on a Wiki or something).

                (*) For a Dutch professional training institute, I teach a 4-day course called "Interaction Design" where I use the umbrella of User Centered Design to teach user research, aspects of design (concepts, structure, interaction, layout, content, visual), and many ways to evaluate a design. I recently did a shorter version in English for Spanish Design Management students. See if you can find someone to do it for you in 4 hours :-) (that will take me some more practicing!)

                Peter
                --
                Peter Boersma | Senior Interaction Designer | Info.nl
                http://www.peterboersma.com/blog | http://www.info.nl
              • Austin Govella
                ... Being lazy and not reading the rest of the responses. Apologies for duplicates. Krug s Don t Make Me Think is the perennial favorite, and I don t think
                Message 7 of 13 , Dec 7, 2009
                  Robert Gravina wrote:
                  > Does anyone have any books/resources they can recommend for a)
                  > learning the basics of UX in the context of web applications and b)
                  > learning techniques for refactoring not-so-good UIs into something
                  > better?

                  Being lazy and not reading the rest of the responses. Apologies for
                  duplicates.

                  Krug's 'Don't Make Me Think' is the perennial favorite, and I don't
                  think anyone will ever write anything better. Best introduction to UX
                  for anyone. Half pictures and half words, plus cartoons and winning style.

                  Christina Wodtke and I wrote the 2nd edition of 'Information
                  Architecture: Blueprints for the Web' as an intro to UX for non-UX
                  people. We do not explicitly focus on database apps, though all of our
                  experience and the majority of our examples reference such. Half
                  pictures and half words.

                  Robert Hoekman's 'Designing the Obvious' takes a lot of common apps with
                  database interfaces and de-engineers them and up-UXes them. Pretty
                  useful to see it in action. Mostly words.



                  --
                  Austin Govella
                • Tim Wright
                  That really depends on how you define web 2.0 :) In any case, the problem you ll need to look at is what are your users trying to achieve . About Face can
                  Message 8 of 13 , Dec 8, 2009
                    That really depends on how you define "web 2.0" :)

                    In any case, the problem you'll need to look at is "what are your users trying to achieve". About Face can help with that. How you turn that information into a solution is a different problem - and the book gives hints for a conventional WIMP interface (windows, icons, menus, pointers). The ideas are probably equally relevant for websites (note tho: I've got About Face 2 - not About Face 3 - beside me).

                    Tim

                    On Tue, Dec 8, 2009 at 7:58 AM, Robert Gravina <robert@...> wrote:
                     

                    2009/12/7 Jeremy Kriegel <jer@...>


                    > I liked the way the first half of The Inmates are Running the Asylum humorously sets up how to approach this problem.

                    Thanks. I think I need a laugh right about now :). Has anyone read
                    Coopers other book (About Face 3) - I've heard it's a bit of an
                    interaction design classic, and the UX people I've worked with in the
                    path seemed to be doing something like the Cooper method. Although the
                    book says it's relevant for "web 2.0 sites", it does seem to have a
                    GUI focus (based on the table of contents, Part III seems to be very
                    GUI focussed as it covers menus, toolbars, etc.).

                    Can anyone comment? Is it still worth a read?

                    Robert

                  • Robert Gravina
                    Thanks all for the great responses!... of all those mentioned, two stand out for me as being particularly useful - About Face 3 for it s coverage of
                    Message 9 of 13 , Dec 8, 2009
                      Thanks all for the great responses!... of all those mentioned, two stand out for me as being particularly useful - About Face 3 for it's coverage of goal-centred design and Designing Interfaces for it's practical, pattern language approach to solving common interface problems.

                      Neither of these are particularly web-focused, but I can see that the concepts are general enough that they could apply to web applications, too. It would be nice to find a really good web-focussed one though.

                      Robert
                    • Jared Spool
                      ... Then I d add Bill Scott & Theresa Neil s Designing Web Interfaces to the mix. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0596516258/?tag=userinterface-20 Jared
                      Message 10 of 13 , Dec 11, 2009

                        On Dec 8, 2009, at 5:24 AM, Robert Gravina wrote:

                        Thanks all for the great responses!.. . of all those mentioned, two stand out for me as being particularly useful - About Face 3 for it's coverage of goal-centred design and Designing Interfaces for it's practical, pattern language approach to solving common interface problems.

                        Then I'd add Bill Scott & Theresa Neil's Designing Web Interfaces to the mix. 

                        Jared

                        Jared M. Spool
                        User Interface Engineering
                        510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
                        e: jspool@... p: +1 978 327 5561
                        http://uie.com  Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks  Twitter: @jmspool

                      • hackerchick
                        Thanks for posting this! I m also a programmer who s interested in building more usable applications. I feel like we re starting to see better design with
                        Message 11 of 13 , Dec 30, 2009
                          Thanks for posting this!  I'm also a programmer who's interested in building more usable applications.  I feel like we're starting to see better design with web sites and a lot of books on web usability, but it seems like most applications are still really lacking in this area. 

                          I'm currently reading About Face 3, which seems a little wordier then necessary - but some very good stuff. I really like his distinction between implementation model (exposing the database structure :) ) vs. the user's mental models.  It does seem to be tailored to application GUIs, I'm not sure what about it would be web 2.0 specific per your question.

                          I'll also check out Designing Interfaces and Designing the Obvious.   I know the latter is meant for web apps, but I wonder - with the newer development technologies like WPF and Adobe Air if the distinction between desktop applications & web applications is really starting to blur because we're not restricted to traditional windows conventions? 


                          Abby
                          --
                          abby fichtner,
                          http://TheHackerChickBlog.com
                          --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, Robert Gravina <robert@...> wrote:
                          >
                          > 2009/12/7 Jeremy Kriegel jer@...
                          > > I liked the way the first half of The Inmates are Running the Asylum humorously sets up how to approach this problem.
                          >
                          > Thanks. I think I need a laugh right about now :). Has anyone read
                          > Coopers other book (About Face 3) - I've heard it's a bit of an
                          > interaction design classic, and the UX people I've worked with in the
                          > path seemed to be doing something like the Cooper method. Although the
                          > book says it's relevant for "web 2.0 sites", it does seem to have a
                          > GUI focus (based on the table of contents, Part III seems to be very
                          > GUI focussed as it covers menus, toolbars, etc.).
                          >
                          > Can anyone comment? Is it still worth a read?
                          >
                          > Robert
                          >
                        • Nancy Frishberg
                          On Dec 7, 2009, at 8:44 AM, Robert Gravina wrote: Catching up on my reading, and offering at least one slightly older work that I ve enjoyed and recommended:
                          Message 12 of 13 , Jan 12, 2010
                            On Dec 7, 2009, at 8:44 AM, Robert Gravina wrote:

                            Catching up on my reading, and offering at least one slightly older
                            work that I've enjoyed and recommended:

                            Ellen Isaacs (http://izix.com/index.html) and Alan Walendowski's
                            Designing from Both Side of the Screen. They walk through the
                            interaction between user-centered design activities (by the designer
                            and with users & customers) and the developer, who likely has greater
                            knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of the chosen
                            technology. Plus they talk about developing for 2 delivery platforms
                            (PC & mobile) at once.

                            http://www.amazon.com/Designing-Both-Sides-Screen-Collaborate/dp/0672321513/
                            (and wow! I'm surprised that the price has held or gone up!)
                            -- Nancy

                            Nancy Frishberg +1 650 804 5800 mobile
                            nancyf@...
                          • Robert Gravina
                            2009/12/30 hackerchick   I ll also check out Designing Interfaces and Designing the Obvious.   I know the latter is meant for web
                            Message 13 of 13 , Jan 12, 2010
                              2009/12/30 hackerchick <haxrchick@...>
                               > I'll also check out Designing Interfaces and Designing the Obvious.
                                I know the latter is meant for web apps, but I wonder - with the
                              newer development technologies like WPF and Adobe Air if the
                              distinction between desktop applications & web applications is really
                              starting to blur because we're not restricted to traditional windows
                              conventions?

                              I read through Designing Interfaces over a week or so and found it
                              *excellent* and was just what I was looking for. The main reason for
                              this is that the author has created a catalouge of patterns for UIs
                              spanning web, desktop and mobile, much like we have design patterns
                              for software. I feel like now I can look at a UI problem and have
                              somewhere to start, and know of examples of real-world applications
                              which tackle the same problem (or similar problems) in similar ways. I
                              feel one step closer to being able to create great interfaces, and not
                              just recognise them. It's a good book... thanks to Tim for
                              recommending it!

                              Robert
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