BOOK REVIEW: A Project Guide to UX Design

UX Design Guide cover

A Project Guide to UX Design is a wonderful book about an aspect of web design that is both essential to success but a murky concept to grasp. I’m talking about “user experience design”, UX, which is the discipline of incorporating good usability in websites and web applications so site owners and users get good use out of the product. I was very excited to get my copy because CSS and Photoshop are both important things to know for the web but too many times a website just isn’t user-friendly, and it doesn’t matter how cool a website looks if it doesn’t serve its users.

Process, not design

I was somewhat disappointed by the book because “design” is in the title and I expected to learn some good usability principles, but most of this book covers elements of the web architecture process:

  • Working with clients to handle expectations, set up payment schedules, define development tasks and responsibilities and more
  • Analyzing the current web product and conducting user research and testing, including persona development
  • Web architecture, including site maps, task flows, wireframes and prototypes

I think user experience design should include user interface design, but in this book relatively little attention was given to details of user interface design. What is the best way to design a web form? Should images be used sparingly in this era of broadband? I wish this book spent more than a small fraction of its pages on such design questions, but I also think the book’s content is important material that belongs on a web designer’s bookshelf.

Hard answers for complex questions

Sometimes I was surprised by the strict advice given about topics that really have no right or wrong answers. This was particularly noticeable in Chapter 3, which covers proposals. I’m not sure such a topic belongs in a book about user experience design, but in any case proposals and business negotiations are usually malleable and influenced by the professional and the client. But co-author Russ Unger has firm views about the subject, such as the view that projects should never be paid 50% up front and 50% upon completion. I’ve actually used this arrangement for a variety of projects and it has worked well for my clients and myself. The book is not always unyielding in this way, and I’m glad it provides some quality methods for developing paperwork and proposals. However, some of these methods may be difficult for readers to change in their own situation—or they may not have the authority to change them at all.

A good book nonetheless

I regret that more of the book is not devoted to design, but it’s still a good read. Ironically, I’m particularly impressed by the book design, which is clean and clear. The sections on wireframing and prototyping excite me because they provide a comprehensive guide to building webpage structure on paper before a line of code is written. Again, different methods work for different people and the chapter on wireframing may seem overly complicated to some. I am also happy to see the authors bring in a variety of other people to comment, write sidebars or even entire chapters. The book is more diverse thanks to this variety of viewpoints, and other books I’ve reviewed recently have used a similar tactic.

A Project Guide to UX Design may be better titled A Project Guide to UX Architecture or something similar, because some web designers may be disappointed to learn this book is part freelance business guide, part web architecture best practices. It’s still a fine book that I would recommend for a web designer or developer who wants to improve their web architecture skills.

A Project Guide to UX Design
Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler
Published by New Riders
Rating: 8/10

6 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: A Project Guide to UX Design”

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    Thank you so much for writing the review.

    I wanted to clarify part of what you call out in Chapter 3 on Proposals.

    What I say in the book is that the myth that all projects need to be paid 50% upfront and 50% upon completion should be dispelled. In cases where you have a relationship with a client and that can work with you, that’s fine, but over the long term of trying to run a business–particularly if you are an independent or full-time freelancer, that type of arrangement can potentially put you in a dicey fiscal state.

    Perhaps I could have been more clear to bring up that if it works for you, go for it. But I do strongly believe that if you want to make a go at being a full time consultant/freelancer, you need to work with a payment structure and schedule that allows you to keep steady income coming in the door.

    Additionally, what we talk about definitely is a part of User Experience Design–what you are calling “Web Architecture”, which I do not believe is fully accurate. I’m trying to find a definition of “Web Architecture”–and I think maybe you meant the Information Architecture, which we acknowledge as part of the UX. Usability is a part of User Experience Design, and we do cover off on this in the chapter Design Testing with Users.

    There are a number of organizations–UXNET (User Experience Network), Information Architecture Institute, Interaction Design Association, Usability Professionals Association are all great organizations that can give you different insights into the various aspects of User Experience Design.

    I’m not sure if you feel that what we do is design–we certainly do feel as if we’re designing a User Experience. And we work closely with visual/graphic designers and developers to ensure that we’re all in-sync and not straying too far from the realm of what is possible and what is required.

    Also: If you’re interested in a great book on Form Design, you should check out Luke Wroblewski’s book “Web Form Design” on Rosenfeld Media.

    Thanks again for the review–it’s really helpful to get an idea as to how things are being presented, and it helps us improve upon things in the event there are future versions.

  2. Thanks Russ for a detailed response to my review! I always enjoy it when authors reach out and discuss their work with critics and the design community.

    RE: payment schedules, I think we on the same page that “if it works for you, go for it.” There are many ways to schedule payments and I think we all agree upon the fact that, if an arrangement works for everyone involved, then it’s a good arrangement no matter how it’s scheduled.

    RE: design/architecture, I suspected it was all a matter of terminology as well. I personally do believe the work described in the book is a form of “design,” but so is the minutiae of typography, color and layout which is not covered in the book. To me, “architecture” involves the larger structure and “design” involves the smaller elements that flesh out the user experience. Maybe I should study UXD more and see if there is better terminology in the industry.

    While reviewing this book, I asked what “architecture” meant to the CEO of a local architecture firm and he considered the word’s Greek and Latin roots, which mean “design,” “building,” and (in Latin’s case) “carpentry.” Maybe design and architecture are one and the same….

    RE: Luke Wroblewski’s “Web Form Design,” I actually just finished reading a review copy and will be writing a review shortly. :)

  3. Hi Jeremy…

    “RE: design/architecture, I suspected it was all a matter of terminology as well. I personally do believe the work described in the book is a form of “design,” but so is the minutiae of typography, color and layout which is not covered in the book. To me, “architecture” involves the larger structure and “design” involves the smaller elements that flesh out the user experience.”

    You have to take into consideration that “User Experience Design” is pretty common, and pretty well-known. I think that, if you listen to Jesse James Garrett’s (author of “Elements of User Experience”) closing plenary (video: transcript: from the IA Summit this year, you’ll find that “User Experience Design” isn’t new–nor is it inaccurate.

    Additionally, you need to consider that the title of the book is “A Project Guide to UX Design” and we are pretty explicit about what we do and do not include. We define User Experience Design in the book as:

    The creation and synchronization of the elements that affect users’ experience with a particular company, with the intent of influencing their perceptions and behavior.

    (We end up stating that we deal with the tangible aspects of that)

    Additionally, Wikipedia gives a fair definition:

    Many of the artifacts and chapters are mentioned:

    * Site Audit (usability study of existing assets)
    * Flows and Navigation Maps
    * User stories or Scenarios
    * Persona (Fictitious users to act out the scenarios)
    * Site Maps and Content Inventory
    * Wireframes (screen blueprints or storyboards)
    * Prototypes (For interactive or in-the-mind simulation)
    * Written specifications (describing the behavior or design)
    * Graphic mockups (Precise visual of the expected end result)

    We include the majority of those, as well as a few other key aspects to an overall project. We felt, as practitioners in the field with some pretty solid experience, that we were covering topics that were relevant to those in the field (and validated our ideas with several other practitioners prior to writing).

  4. Unfortunately, your architect friend is mistaken. ‘Architecture': ‘arch’ is the Ancient Greek word for ‘chief'; ‘tekton’ is the Ancient Greek word for ‘builder’, with carpenter being more of a creative translation choice. Here I refer you to Lidell & Scott, without whom we Classicists would be quite lost:

    In any event, it is unfortunate that you hew to such a limited and frankly outdated definition of design (e.g., that which is purely visual or typographical in nature) when both the visual design and UX practices have long since moved toward more of a design thinking definition wherein design as practice becomes focused on solving problems.

  5. Russ, I read the transcript of Jesse’s plenary and what I got from it is that UXD, IA and ED are actually still hard to define, hard to draw boundaries for within the whole of creative endeavors, and still grappling with a sense of identity. Jesse says at one point that IAs and EDs don’t really exist, and they are all UXDs—that was surprising to me. And as for the definition of UXD, I didn’t really touch upon this in my review but my opinion is the definition is so broad that every sensory experience created in a business setting is a function of UXD. I happen to think the definition is correct though not very useful since the boundaries are so broad, and I consider 100% of my professional work to be in UXD even though I don’t affiliate with any camp.

    I try to avoid these semantic pitfalls because I think they distract us from the actual work, whether we are web designers, web architects, UXDs, IAs, EDs or something else.

  6. Gabby wrote, “…Visual design and UX practices have long since moved toward more of a design thinking definition wherein design as practice becomes focused on solving problems.”

    I like the defined boundary of visual design as purely visual (and typographical) in nature, because broad and vague boundaries make for weak definitions (see my response to Russ, above). The idea that design is now “solving problems” is also quite broad.

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