Tag Archives: design

BOOK REVIEW: Universal Design for Web Applications

univdesign-webapps

Wendy Chisholm is co-editor of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0; Matt May is an accessibility engineer at Adobe and leader of the Web Standards Project Accessibility Task Force. With credentials like theirs, their book Universal Design for Web Applications has all the makings of an essential resource for web designers and developers who need their web applications to be accessible for everyone—and who doesn’t need their web applications to be accessible?

Lean but worth reading

This book is published by O’Reilly, and it seems to me that O’Reilly puts out books that are either (1) small and compact or (2) large and dense. Universal Design is one of the former, at less than 200 small pages. I actually prefer these to the larger tomes, and in this case it works great because the book is full of useful knowledge. The book’s title suggests it’s about web application design but most of it pertains to HTML/XHTML structure, forms and tables, scripts and some Ajax—all of which are just as pertinent for web designers if not more so. If you build websites for a living—but not necessarily web applications—then Universal Design is just as valuable a book for your bookshelf.

The information in this book is fairly comprehensive but not complete—the sections on structure and accessible code are fairly thorough but I wish there was more written about the process of creating such code, which is in the final chapter and only takes up a small portion of the book. It’s pretty good but experienced web designers who know next to nothing about universal design may need a little more help getting in the habit of building accessible web applications. But with the first couple chapters, which introduce and promote the concept of universal design, those in the field will have a pretty good idea of why it’s important and how to approach it on a basic level.

It’s ironic to me that web designers and developers are often manic about validation—they’ll proudly show their sites are XHTML-compliant and pooh-pooh those that aren’t—but sometimes don’t know much about all the factors involved in universal design, which is probably more important to their clientele. I would recommend any web designer or developer to pick up Universal Design for Web Applications, supplement it with online material from W3C and other accessibility resources, and change the way they construct their web products.

Universal Design for Web Applications
Wendy Chisholm and Matt May
Published by O’Reilly
US$34.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: Neuro Web Design

Neuro Web Design cover
Neuro Web Design cover

Very few web design books I’ve seen explore the intersection of web design and psychology, which is why Neuro Web Design by Dr. Susan Weinschenk is such an interesting read. The book is not about usability or how people interact with websites; rather, it’s about why people interact with websites in terms of basic rational and emotional impulses. The book’s subtitle, “What makes them click?”, sums it up nicely.

Steeped in research

Neuro Web Design reads a lot like a textbook, citing various psychological studies that support a variety of observations such as:

  • Human beings’ need to reciprocate when they feel indebted,
  • Social validation as pressure to belong,
  • The self-centeredness of individuals,
  • If something seems unavailable, people want it even more,
  • Too many choices actually make things difficult for the chooser, and
  • The unconscious mind processes information as stories and pictures.

There are several more observations, but I won’t reveal all of this book’s insights. Each chapter focuses on one particular observation or rule, cites studies that illustrate how these rules operate in the real world, and then apply the rules to examples of websites. The idea is to control websites’ users’ behavior by taking advantage of the impulses we naturally share. It’s excellent material and I really got involved in reading this book, mostly because I’ve never read anything like it before. Usability books such as Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think come close, but Neuro Web Design is more about natural impulses and less about usability.

Almost a book for website planners

My one criticism of Neuro Web Design is that there isn’t as much attention paid to web design as I would like. The majority of pages are devoted to the psychological material and in some chapters only a couple pages are used to apply the material to the field of web design.

Also, even though “web design” is discussed there is actually very little coverage of real design matters such as layout, color and typography. Neuro Web Design covers matters of web architecture, such as why it’s important to have product reviews (because people will want to do what others do) or try to sell fully loaded products first (because people fear losing anything). Such matters are on a different level of web design, and some web designers actually get little or no say at this stage of development—such things are sometimes decided upon by sales and marketing managers.

Conclusion

Neuro Web Design is an important book for any web designer’s bookshelf, and I think it applies to design in general as well. That’s partly because there is not a lot of web design-specific material in the book, which is a shame—this 150-page book could have really benefitted from 50 more pages about web design. If Dr.Weinschenk were to partner with a A-list web designer and produce a second edition of this book, I think it would be a classic.

Neuro Web Design
Dr. Susan Weinschenk
Published by New Riders
Rating: 9/10
US$24.99

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
US$34.99
Rating: 8/10

Get 15% Off of All Rosenfeld Books

Rosenfeld Media logo

I just finished reading a great book called Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski—the review will be publishing here soon. But Louis Rosenfeld and his company Rosenfeld Media were also kind enough to grant all Designorati readers a 15% discount to all products sold at their website, RosenfeldMedia.com.

Simply order from the website and enter the code “DESIGNORATI” when placing your order, and you’ll score the 15% savings.

Rosenfeld Media is a relatively new publishing house, and according to their website their first books published just last year—but they have a good stable of authors and highly regarded advisors. Web Form Design is the first Rosenfeld Media book I’ve read, and I was very pleasantly surprised (more on this in the review). I’m looking forward to reviewing more of their offerings, and in the meantime I encourage you to visit them if you work in the fields of user experience design, information architecture or related disciplines!