Human factors research material
March 19, 2007 3:39 PM   Subscribe

As a former software QA analyst and a current system administrator I've long been interested in human factors engineering, specifically related to HCI. I think some deeper self-learning in this area will help me a great deal professionally so I'm looking for recommendations on learning materials.

I'd mostly like to learn about existing research and what it shows about how computer users perceive interfaces and why they make the decisions they do. So to the usability experts out there, what are some of the best things for me to read? I have access to academic journals so references to those are welcome as well.

Related bonus question: is there existing research into whether certain interface design choices are more successful when used by different social groups or are the conclusions of human factors research pretty much universal?
posted by saraswati to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Where to begin... answers to your question touch on the fields of usability, information architecture, and user-centered design and user experience.

My years in the business have mostly been spent working on web sites (and some web apps) so most of my recommendations come from that discipline. Maybe they will be helpful.

"Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug is a great first read into the entire user-centered design process and how users think -- or don't, as the case usually is. For that reason, the title is also a great rule to keep in mind any time you're designing user interfaces.

When it comes to creating site maps and navigation structures, I still haven't found anything to beat "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web" by Rosenfeld and Morville. It's an old book, but a classic that will give you a good idea of how to organize information (or tasks) in ways that people intuitively "get."

You'll need certain types of documentation to communicate your more usable ideas. "Information Architecture: Blueprints for the World Wide Web" by Christina Wodtke is a great overview of all kinds of documentation used and how to create them: site maps, process flows, personas, wireframes, etc.

And speaking of personas, Alan Cooper's "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" was one of the first to advocate for creating "fictional users," each with different levels of computer knowledge, goals, needs, etc., in order to better understand how to design a site or application. If you do nothing else, consider creating personas and using them as you design and then evaluate your site/system/solution.

Usability testing -- trying out prototypes of new solutions, or looking for problems in current ones -- is a big part of making sure things are user friendly. For a how-to on usability testing, check out "The Handbook of Usability Testing" by Jeffrey Rubin. Again, this book has been out there for a while, and you could make the argument that it recommends a much more formal and expensive type of testing than is really done these days, but the basics are still solid.

One of my favorite new books is "The Design of Sites" by Van Duyne, Landay and Hong. Want to know how to create an e-mail app that really works? A great shopping cart? A news site? This book lays it out for you brick by brick.

A few sites worth checking out include, (Jakob Nielsen's site -- check out his numerous books, too, for a purist's take on usability). You may find especially helpful -- they tend to run pretty academic experiments and then apply the results in broader ways.

You've just walked into a field that's both wide and deep. Run, be free, have fun.
posted by CMichaelCook at 4:15 PM on March 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Gary Perlman has a pretty good reading list on Amazon as well as this one on his very useful If you have institutional access to the ACM digital library, proceedings of the CHI conferences are a nice high-quality place to browse.

If you can afford to go to CHI (or get your employer to send you), it is being held in San Jose next month.

Regarding the interface design and social groups question, there are differences between the types of interfaces that are successful for different groups. Disabled users, children, and the elderly tend to respond more favorably to interfaces that take their needs into account. Computer or domain experts will prefer different interfaces than computer or domain novices, etc.

Are there particular social groups that interest you?
posted by i love cheese at 4:19 PM on March 19, 2007

Check out Dr. Ben Schneiderman, from my alma mater (University of Maryland). He's been a prominent figure in the field of Human-Computer Interaction for the past 20 years.
posted by jbiz at 5:57 PM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: Most human factors studies begin with identifying the different audience segments and understanding their needs and workflows. These can differ a lot.

If I were going to recommend some practical books to someone interested in becoming a practicing human factors engineer I would recommend the following:

1. Usabilty engineering by Jakob Neilsen

2. Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests (Paperback)

3. The Usability Engineering Lifecycle: A Practitioner's Handbook for User Interface Design (Interactive Technologies) by Deborah J. Mayhew

4. User and Task Analysis for Interface Design by JoAnn T. PhD Hackos and Janice C. Redish

However, I have a feeling that what you are interested in are design heuristics, so I would google that. Many people make decisions based on standards, that is, they expect things to work as they are used to them working. These standard expectations can be met design wise by adhering to a set of design heuristics, or guidelines.

There are tradeoffs for any design decision. It may be a heuristic to make text 11 point, but if your site is oriented to college kids then maybe you can get away with smaller text if you need the space. It's not a hard rule. Also, norms change. It used to be there was a heuristic rule that all links be blue and underlined. That's changed as people have seen different ways of presenting links.

The Yale Web style guide does a good job of showing some heuristic examples.
posted by xammerboy at 9:39 PM on March 19, 2007

Edward Tufte is a guru on the subject, to say the least. All of his books are well regarded by HCI/usability pros. This one seems to most directly address your question.

Though not specifically addressing your question, this one is Tufte's most famous book, and an essential in the UI designer's library.
posted by nadise at 3:34 AM on March 20, 2007

These come from a university reading list I swiped from somewhere; I've never had a chance to read them all but I assume they're fairly good.
  • Baecker, R., Buxton, W., Grudin, J., & Greenberg, S. (1995). Readings in Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000. 2nd edition. Morgan Kaufman.
  • Dix, A. et al. (1998). Human-Computer Interaction. 2nd edition. Prentice-Hall.
  • Helander, M., Landauer, T. & Prabhu, P. (1998). Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  • Lewis, C. & Rieman, J. (1993). Task-Centered User Interface Design: A Practical Introduction. University of Colorado, Boulder, HTML version on the World-Wide Web:
  • Norman, D. (2002). The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books.
  • Preece, J., Rogers, Y. & Sharp, B. (2002). Interaction Design, Wiley.
  • Rosson, M.B. & Carroll, J. (2001). Usability Engineering: Scenario Based Development of Human Computer Interaction. Morgan Kaufmann.
  • Shneiderman, B. (1998). Designing the User Interface. Addison-Wesley.

posted by Deathalicious at 4:25 AM on March 20, 2007

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