Seeking books about human-computer interaction or user interface design
July 29, 2004 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever read any books, etc. about human-computer interaction or user interface design that were particularly worthwhile?

I'm working on a fairly complex windows app and obviously, I want the UI to be 'good'. In the past, things I've read about UI design and HCI I've found to be...not that helpful. Even Tufte's chapters on computers I thought were weak (active window should definitely always be yellow?). I'm looking for insight that is beyond the 'obvious thing we decided to fancify with a name' realm (Fitt's Law). IDEO says, 'prototype early, prototype often', which is fine and I intend to follow that advice, but is there any sort of reference work out there worth reading that will help prune the space of possible prototypes?
posted by jeb to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
User Error

Most people will see it as a decent history of design for the end user. I saw it Support people will see it as an apologist work for the dolts who call us.
posted by pieoverdone at 11:20 AM on July 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sorry, on preview I see that you're actually designing something and not looking for theory/sociolgy on the matter.
posted by pieoverdone at 11:22 AM on July 29, 2004

Donald Norman's The Design of Everday Things is excellent. While its focus is broad, I think its lessons can be applied to the work that you're describing. I've personally found it useful in planning UI design for console games.
posted by Fourmyle at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2004

Jef Raskin's The Humane Interface provides insight like none other I've read. Some of his ideas are radical in the proverbial UI sense, but in doing so, gives me something to think about when designing my own interfaces.

It isn't a book on best practices—which is often a crux, I think. It's a book which helps designers learn their works' effect on users.
posted by pedantic at 12:28 PM on July 29, 2004

Joel (on Software) Spolsky's User Interface Design for Programmers is pretty good. You can read a lot of the book online fo' free
posted by Capn at 12:56 PM on July 29, 2004

Response by poster: Too bad I'm afraid of Raskin from having seen too many pictures of him wearing that creepy EyeNoggler.
posted by jeb at 1:01 PM on July 29, 2004

Muller and Sano, Designing Visual Interfaces.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:20 PM on July 29, 2004

Check out Alan Cooper's About Face and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. The former is more nuts-and-bolts and probably more directly applicable to the problem at hand, but the latter has a couple of great case studies of UIs that Cooper's team has actually designed and is worth reading for those alone. The one for the Sony in-flight entertainment system, in particular, is brilliant -- reading the description of Sony's existing UI, I saw its limitations, but was unable to envision a better way until I saw Cooper's far superior answer.
posted by kindall at 1:54 PM on July 29, 2004

You're doing Windows, but the Apple Human Interface Guidelines (no link, at work) are killer. Its righteous good sense will probably make you hate Windows though ...
posted by bonaldi at 2:14 PM on July 29, 2004

Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think is a great overall guide, and 37signals' Defensive Design for the Web is great for how to handle when things go wrong.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2004

I second Norman's Design of Everyday Things. Even the sections on real world topics like doors and buttons can help put you in the right frame of mind.
posted by brism at 2:58 PM on July 29, 2004

I really hated About Face, too specifically focused on Wintel, no design theory.

I'm somewhat amazed no-one's mentioned all three Tufte books, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information, and Visual Explanations.

Me three for Raskin and Laurel's books.

Tog on Software Design was informative and thought provoking. Information Design was worth getting.

Yale's Unabomber victim David Gelernter has some interesting writings about UI and other things. However, his misty-eyed, reverent nostalgia for a self-defined 'voice of authority' in 1939 made me uneasy as I read his UI stuff. Despite this unease, I can see how a longing for the strong hand in a velvet glove - a Platonic ruler of UI - might be quite beneficial in conceptualizing user interfaces.

The best book on UI I ever read is Designing Visual Interfaces: Communication Oriented Techniques. It more-or-less presents evidence and methods for some basic rules, and leaves it at that. The rules include things such as "Use baselines to align type" and "limit user options to seven at a time," as I recall (I had forgotten the name of this book until I started the legwork on this post).

As a bonus, the book is very beautiful, and embodies its' principles with style and grace.

Unfortunately, IMHO, this is a field full of bad literature - most of the books I have on my shelf are either designer-oriented vanity sample books, pretty and inspiring but utterly lacking in concrete analysis and systemization, or dry, misguided stuff emanating from the Nielsen camp, violating their own precepts in their incoherent gracelessness of presentation.

A final rather unoriginal suggestion is McCloud's well-loved Understanding Comics.

Good luck!
posted by mwhybark at 5:22 PM on July 29, 2004

Irrelevant anecdote: long ago, I used a Macintosh app called Debabelizer, which was a programme for batch image processing, kind of like imagemagic on Unix, but with a GUI - of sorts. It broke the Mac interface guidelines thoroughly, gleefully, in gratuitous and baffling ways.

One of the joys of reading Designing Visual Intefaces was that the authors illustrated most of their "Don't do this" admonitions with screen caps from an unnamed app which I immediately recognized as the evil Debabelizer. The authors tried to use the most objective language they could, but I knew that they, like me, hated every last pixel of its terrifying UI.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:44 PM on July 29, 2004

D'oh - just noticed Tufte ref in graf 2.

/me walks off field, sits on bench

(I too love and hate the minefield that was DeBabelizer.)
posted by mwhybark at 6:30 PM on July 29, 2004

I still find myself using an ancient version of debabelizer to get stuff done. After using it for many years I still sometimes forget how to do things - even if I have done them many times before. The program is really useful, but the UI is one of the worst ever.
posted by milovoo at 7:05 PM on July 29, 2004

I liked the Cooper and Krug and McCloud books referenced above.

I also enjoyed this one from Hackos and Redish: User and Task Analysis for Interface Design
posted by bragadocchio at 8:20 PM on July 29, 2004

The old, and possibly original, Apple Human-Computer Interface Guidelines were good, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:06 PM on July 29, 2004

Alan Cooper's books. His tone is sometimes irritating, but his ideas (mostly in the newer book, I forget the name but the tagline is "About Face II") are good.
The Apple Human Interface Guidelines have been updated for Mac OS X and are also a good read.

Also check your local CS/engineering library.
posted by azazello at 10:14 PM on July 29, 2004

the evil Debabelizer

Gotta agree, that program's UI sucked. Unfortunately, it also did things that no other program could do. When I needed to convert literally hundreds of Apple IIgs text screens to TIFF for inclusion in the AppleWorks 4 manual, DeBabelizer was there for me. Good times, good times.

Speaking of invaluable programs with crappy UI, Alan Cooper has said he would love to redesign Photoshop. I begged him in e-mail to tackle FrameMaker first. At the time I suggested that, FrameMaker still made you click Up and Down buttons in a tiny dialog to rearrange files in a book.
posted by kindall at 12:01 AM on July 30, 2004

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