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Ask Slashdot: Good, Relevant Usability Book? 173

Posted by timothy
from the how-does-this-fitt? dept.
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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Ask Slashdot: Good, Relevant Usability Book?

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  • Don't Make Me Think (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:18PM (#37631360)

    Don't Make Me Think

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

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

    • by vgerclover (1186893) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @05:08PM (#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.
    • 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

      • by hedronist (233240)
        Why has the parent comment not been modded up? It's one of the more detailed, thoughtful answers to this question I've seen. It makes me think (again) that StackOverflow's voting system is far superior to the outdated /. mod system.
  • by msauve (701917) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:19PM (#37631392)
    anything by Don Norman.
    • 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!
    • by faust2097 (137829)

      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 f

    • ... or Victor Papanek.

    • by sconeu (64226)

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

  • by UconnGuy (562899) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:20PM (#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.
    • by Vixe (1846608)
      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.
    • by leenks (906881)

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

    • by eyrieowl (881195)
      Another vote for Design with the Mind in Mind. Well written, relatively up-to-date, practical advice.
  • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:23PM (#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.

    • by N!k0N (883435)

      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"...

      • 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, wh

      • by leenks (906881)

        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.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    (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

  • by frisket (149522) <peter@nOSpam.silmaril.ie> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:28PM (#37631546) Homepage
    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...

    • by plover (150551) *

      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 f

    • by Beorytis (1014777)

      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.

  • 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

    • by jddj (1085169)

      All excellent titles (and most of these are on my shelf). One I'd like to add is "Simple and Usable" by Giles Colborne ISBN: 978-0321703545

      Simple and Usable is a short read, but does a great job at helping you understand what goes into simplifying a design. "Simplicity is not simple" - there's always an irreducible amount of complexity. This book helps you understand how to manage it.

      It's a mindset book, not a cookbook - not really similar to "Design of Everyday Things" (DoET), but it serves a similar purpo

  • Basic advice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Caerdwyn (829058) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:30PM (#37631588) Journal

    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".

    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      THIS. A thousand times this.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      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 learni

      • here's an interesting article that suggests you get a great deal of benefit from usability testing with just 5 users:

        http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000319.html [useit.com]
      • 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

    • by Kohath (38547)

      Can we use this principle for government too?

      • by hedwards (940851)

        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

    • by Hatta (162192)

      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.

      • 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

      • by hedwards (940851)

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

        • by Hatta (162192)

          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.

      • by Macgrrl (762836)

        Disclaimer, I haven't done any UI design in nearly 10 years and I originally trained as an architect (buildings).

        I always viewed good UI design as being like a well laid out kitchen. All your essential and frequently used tools are within arms reach of where you are currently working and everything else should be exactly where you look for them. Certain things are always visible/accessible, other things are kept behind cupboard doors when not in use.

        Usability is by very definition about how you use the tool

      • When it comes to learning a new UI, most people have the attention span of a toddler. They are busy taking calls, going to meetings, reading reports, running errands and planning vacations. They don't want to spend the day re-learning how to do the annoying bits of their job (using the computer to enter data or access data).

    • by erko (806441)
      You can only understand this if your id is greater than 800000. :)
    • by Beorytis (1014777)

      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].
    • by hedwards (940851)

      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 o

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

    • It is an experimental science. Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen are among its pioneers.
      • by c0d3g33k (102699)

        I've read enough of his articles and papers over the years. Doesn't really look like what I recognize as science.

        Here's an old, but interesting essay that takes a critical look at this 'experimental science': http://www.fruitti.com/essay2.html [fruitti.com]

    • 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?

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

  • by uniquename72 (1169497) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:39PM (#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.
  • 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.
  • A science? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192)

    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.

    • 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 properl

      • by Hatta (162192)

        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.

        • 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 abou

          • by Hatta (162192)

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

            The command line is already user friendly. Any command you want, all you have to do is invoke it. There's no searching through menus or squinting at icons, wondering what they do. Anytime you need more information, it's a 'man' or a '-h' away.

            The command line is very friendly to this user. Much more friendly than any GUI I've ever seen. Every time I sit down at an OS X machine, the fi

            • Why is that?

              2 quick points in case you still read this:
              - Recognition is easier [psychcentral.com] than recall [wikipedia.org].

              - Artificial languages are much, much more difficult than natural ones.

              So there's nothing in the recall-based, artificial language of the CLI that makes it user-friendly. The Archy project tried to alleviate both in a CLI-like-ish interface that didn't suffer those problems so badly.

      • I think you missed the parent post's point.

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

  • 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.
  • by nomadic (141991)
    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.
  • 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.
  • ... but I threw it away after reading it once.
  • 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

    • by am 2k (217885)

      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

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • The best usability book I ever used is "Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works (Interactive Technologies)" by Janice (Ginny) Redish.
    http://www.amazon.com/Letting-Go-Words-Interactive-Technologies/dp/0123694868 [amazon.com]
  • 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 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].

  • I see that some others have mentioned it, but they linked to Amazon and some random web page, rather than the source:
    https://developer.apple.com/library/mac/#documentation/UserExperience/Conceptual/AppleHIGuidelines/Intro/Intro.html [apple.com]

  • I personally have, and quite like, Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interactions Design, 2nd Edition (by Jenifer Tidwell, 2010, O'Reilly), which I think is very helpful for UI design.

    Usability, of course, goes beyond just the design of the UI; the design of the actual workflow is important, for that good process analysis skills and tools (mostly not automated) are needed.

    And for all aspects of usability, involving users early, getting them using the system early, and getting -- and using -- feed

  • The Inmates are running the asylum.

    I highly recommend this book. It puts forward the case for user-centred design and describes some basic but effective techniques.

    Some of the technology in the examples is a bit dated, however the experiences of using bad interfaces is still fresh.

    Nielsen's heuristics should also be referred to constantly in user interface design: http://www.useit.com/papers/heuristic/heuristic_list.html [useit.com]

  • Find the stupidest most computer-illiterate person you can who is in the intended user group (General public - get your aol-using grandfather. Sales team - get that moron who keeps calling tech support because he accidentally moved his desktop icons and now can't launch word. etc). Pay them some money to sit in front of your UI and then ask them to do various tasks you're worried about. Don't give them any hints - just let them solve the puzzle of how to do [whatever] themselves. Video it. Show the vid

  • Many people wrote about Norman's books, they are indeed very useful. Only one person mentioned Raskin's "The humane interface", and that's a pity.

    It is a very valuable resource, he shares his ideas in a very clear fashion. You will be exposed to concepts such as "interface monotony" or "modeless interface". Once you go through his examples, you will realize that these simple ideas can make a big difference.

    http://www.amazon.com/Humane-Interface-Directions-Designing-Interactive/dp/0201379376/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UT [amazon.com]

  • I recommend this book: Alan Cooper, "About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design"

    And now to get onto my own soapbox:

    Paying special attention to the usability of things *outside the computer* goes a long way to understanding what works for *people*. There are a lot of great ideas that can be brought into interface design from real-life objects, and you won't necessarily think of them unless you purposefully pay attention to them. What makes a good doorknob feel "right"? How about a good elevator butto

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