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.