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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
When About Face was first published in 1995, the field of user interface design had barely been conceived. In Alan Cooper’s vivid words, “a small cadre of people brave enough to hold the title User Interface Designer operated under the shadow of software engineering, rather like the tiny, quick-witted mammals that scrambled under the shadows of hulking tyrannosaurs.” The rest is history.
For one thing, the Web took off. Even though HTML user interfaces were (and are) horribly primitive, the Web forced us to recognize that poor design kills products -- and businesses. Of course, many underlying issues of software design and behavior apply both on the Web and off. (Some even apply in “embedded systems” that require human interaction -- as many luxury car owners have recently discovered.)
Something else fueled the incredible growth in interaction design: Alan Cooper’s About Face itself. Not merely a manifesto, it offered practical design principles and new ways of thinking about building software for humans. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. We could use more of Alan Cooper’s help. And here it is: About Face 2.0.
Cooper’s insights are unified by one powerful idea: organize software development around people, not technology. Meaning what? Among other things: Understand users’ goals -- not just the tasks they perform to achieve them. Design first, code second. Separate design and programming responsibilities. Design for behavior, not form -- otherwise, you’ll spent months “iterating” out bad interactions and still wind up with a deeply flawed product.
Cooper and Robert Reimann weave together strategy and tactics -- an approach that’s as reasonable as it is rare. After all, you can’t just “follow a cookbook” (or for that matter, a style guide). There’s no “perfect dialog box” for every user. What’s more, many crucial design issues go far deeper than the surface of a CRT. So Cooper offers powerful tools for understanding your users and how they interact with software.
But without specific, on-the-ground advice for using interface elements like buttons and drop-down boxes, you’ll never get from airy theory to working software. So that’s here, too -- plenty of it.
As you’d expect, this book’s radically different from its predecessor. To begin with, it’s been reorganized to be far easier to use. Section I focuses on process and high-level ideas. What is “goal-directed design”? What makes good software design? What are the best ways to observe users? How do you define “personas”: the types of users who’ll use your software?
Section II introduces a powerful high-level language of interaction design. Cooper defines terms like “software posture,” “excise,” “inflection,” “orchestration,” and “flow” -- and brings powerful new insights to universal features like Undo and Save. You’ll learn proven techniques for making software both smart and considerate (yes, you can do both); for improving data entry and retrieval; and for supporting widely diverse users.
Section III drills down to the details: mouse interactions, window behaviors, menus, controls, toolbars, and dialog boxes; eliminating errors; productive communication with users; even clearer, simpler installations. The book concludes with detailed coverage of the specific challenges of design for the Web, wireless devices; appliances; and kiosks. About Face is just about as definitive as a book on software design can be. Again. Bill Camarda
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.