Good usability books
September 27, 2006 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books dealing with usability for web and software applications. Not so much books that focus on coding or theory, but instead books that primarily relate to usability methods and the execution of usability studies

Most of the books I've read on the subject either deal to heavily with coding (I am not a programmer) or devote too much time to theory (why usability is cost effective, necessary or otherwise grand). I don't need these types of books.

What I want are books that are nuts and blots. For instance, those that deal with methods, best practices, collecting data, consolidating data and finding agregate usage patterns across multiple users. Also, any book that focuses on how to correctly utilize collected data to appropriately inform design would score high marks.

Basically, google and amazon searches yield too much information, many of which do not focus on my area of interest. So which books would you recommend?

(By the way, Nielsen and Norman are a little bit on the whiny side for my tastes fwiw, but go ahead and recommend whatever you feel fits.)
posted by |n$eCur3 to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Highly recommended: Understanding Your Users: A Practical Guide to User Requirements Methods, Tools, and Techniques . Should be exactly what you want.
posted by jeremias at 7:09 PM on September 27, 2006

Steve Krug's Don't make me think.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:21 PM on September 27, 2006

A couple of textbooks from my college days (HCI major):

Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems, Beyer and Holtzblatt
Deals with gathering data on what your customers really want (often different from what they say they want) and the prototyping/feedback cycle. If I remember correctly, this one's pretty dry and business oriented (they use the word "customers" instead of "users" for instance, and there's a lot of about how to work as a team), but it's still got a lot of good information about the process. It is does also cover "why usability is cost effective, necessary or otherwise grand" (except substitute "contextual design" for "usability").

Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction, Schneiderman and Plaisant
More technical than Contextual Design. Talks about menu systems, the command line, documentation, visualization, etc.

After rereading your question, Contextual Design is probably more what you're looking for. It does, however, focus on what to do before you start coding, rather than evaluating the usability of an existing project, so maybe not.

Although, if the contextual design thing intrigues you, I also recommend Cognition in the Wild by Hutchins (who was a professor of mine). He spent time on large Navy ships analyzing how the navigation team works together. It's probably outside the scope of your question, but it does provide a different way of looking at complex human interactions, and so it plays into contextual design.

I realize that these books don't so much address usability tests as such, but hopefully you'll still find them helpful.
posted by natabat at 7:30 PM on September 27, 2006

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research

I have read Understanding Your Users and Designing the User Interface and while they are good, they're not what this book is, which is a highly complete, down-and-dirty reference manual. Well organized, full of examples. I'm doing usability on a site right now, and this book has been my bible recently.
posted by Hildago at 7:59 PM on September 27, 2006

Another vote for "Dont Make Me Think". Very good, and very short.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:18 PM on September 27, 2006

Thirding "Don't Make Me Think". Concise, yet insightful.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:26 PM on September 27, 2006

Response by poster: Natabat, you and I must have passed through the same program.

Hutchins was very much my idol in college (clearly one of the best public speakers I've ever encountered in academia) and I've read each of those books pretty much cover to cover. If anyone else is reading this thread, Cognition in the Wild is a fascinating read, though it touches more upon the theoretical background for studying information systems. Contextual design is quite possibly the most complete design book, but only if you have a ton of time/ money/ patience to literally waste during the design cycle. I'm happy that I read it, but anyone who can incorporate this process into their business is either my idol, or works for Microsoft (the general principles still apply most everywhere, though).

Hildago, "Observing the User Exepereince" is probably what I am looking for, but I will also check out "Don't Make me Think" since it is so highly recommended.

Jeremias, I'll be checking that one out too... what did you like about it, specifically?
posted by |n$eCur3 at 9:57 PM on September 27, 2006

Response by poster: Keep em coming.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:00 PM on September 27, 2006

I have a copy of Usability: The site speaks for itself, which I think is very interesting.

There's even a chapter by Matt Haughey, entitled Metafilter, adventures in zero-budget usability.
posted by booksprite at 10:53 PM on September 27, 2006

Jakob Nielsen's website and this book have always been useful to me.
posted by mooders at 12:02 AM on September 28, 2006

If you are going to do task analysis and on-site visits, this is a very good and practical book, though on the pricey side:
User and Task Analysis for Interface Design
posted by bragadocchio at 12:33 AM on September 28, 2006

Jeremias, I'll be checking that one out too... what did you like about it, specifically?

The case studies are great and the book goes deep into the process but (for the most part) the writing stays clear and jargon-free.

Don't Make Me Think is the best intro to this subject. In the Amazon review Steve Krug said this about Understanding Your Users:
I wish I'd had this book ten years ago; it would have saved me an awful lot of time. It's the kind of eminently practical guide that I really appreciate, and the case studies are excellent. I highly recommend it!
--Steve Krug, author of Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
posted by jeremias at 4:42 AM on September 28, 2006

« Older Achtung Boilermakers!   |   I am a fool in love Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.