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GUI Bloopers looks at user interface design bloopers from commercial software, Web sites, and information appliances, explaining how intelligent, well-intentioned professionals made these dreadful mistakes—and how you can avoid them. While equipping you with all the theory needed to learn from these examples, GUI expert Jeff Johnson also presents the reality of interface design in an entertaining, anecdotal, and instructive way.

This is an excellent, well-illustrated resource for anyone whose work touches on usability issues, including software engineers, Web site designers, managers of development processes, QA professionals, and usability professionals.

Hear Jeff Johnson's interview podcast on software and website usability at the University of Canterbury (25 min.)

• Takes a learn-by-example approach that teaches you to avoid common errors by asking the appropriate questions of your own interface designs.
• Includes two complete war stories, drawn from the author's personal experience, that describe in detail the challenges faced by UI engineers.
• Covers bloopers in a wide range of categories: GUI components, layout and appearance, text messages, interaction strategies, Web site design, responsiveness issues, management decision-making, and even more at
• Organized and formatted based on the results of its own usability testing—so you can quickly find the information you need, packaged in easily digested pieces.
• Announcing the sequel: Web Bloopers. Totally devoted to the Web. Go to

Audience: Professional programmers, software and web developers and managers, user interaction professionals and practitioners, interface designers, and usability specialists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Better read this book, or your design will be featured in Bloopers II. Seriously, bloopers may be fun in Hollywood outtakes, but no movie director would include them in the final film. So why do we find so many bloopers in shipped software? Follow Jeff Johnson as he leads the blooper patrol deep into enemy territory: he takes no prisoners but reveals all the design stupidities that users have been cursing over the years."

-Jakob Nielsen
Usability Guru, Nielsen Norman Group

"If you are a software developer, read this book, especially if you don't think you need it. Don't worry, it isn't filled with abstract and useless theory—this is a book for doers, code writers, and those in the front trenches. Buy it, read it, and take two sections daily."

-Don Norman, President, UNext Learning Systems, theorist (The Design of Everyday Things), and doer (The Invisible Computer)

Library Journal
GUI stands for graphical user interface. Bloopers are incredibly dumb designs created over the past ten years such as error messages, unreadable fonts, hidden functionality, installation nightmares, back buttons that don't go back, and untimely feedback. Highlighting those and other (82 total) examples of bad design, Johnson, president and primary consultant at UI a Wizards Inc., believes software designers should design from the user's point of view. Readers will find his chapter on good design principles useful; recommended for university and large public libraries.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558605824
  • Publisher: Elsevier Science
  • Publication date: 3/17/2000
  • Series: Interactive Technologies Series
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 7.42 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeff Johnson is president and principal consultant at UI Wizards, Inc., a product usability consulting firm (www.uiwizards.). He has worked in the field of Human-Computer Interaction since 1978, as a software designer and implementer, usability tester, manager, researcher at several computer and telecommunications companies, and as a consultant. In the course of his career, he has written many articles, cowritten several books, and given numerous presentations on a variety of topics in Human-Computer Interaction.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: First Principles


The main purpose of this book is to describe user interface bloopers that are often made by developers of computer-based products and services, and to provide design rules and guidelines for avoiding each blooper. First, however, it is useful to ground the discussion of the bloopers by laying out the principles that underlie the design of effective, user-friendly user interfaces. That is the purpose of this chapter.

The principles given in this chapter are not specific design rules for graphical user interfaces (GUIs). There is nothing in this chapter about the right or wrong way to design dialog boxes, menus, toolbars, Web links, and so on. Specific design rules about such issues are provided in later chapters of the book, in the design rules for avoiding each blooper.

Specific user interface design rules are also given in "official" style guides for specific industry-standard GUI platforms, such as the Java Look and Feel Design Guildelines [Sun, 1999], the Windows Interface Guidelines for Software Design [Microsoft, 1995], the OSF/Motif Style Guide: Rev 1.2 [OSF, 1993], and the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines [Apple, 1993]. Specific GUI guidelines are also provided by many "unofficial" but nonetheless good books, such as Bickford [1997], Fowler [1998], Mandel [1997], McFarland and Dayton [1995], Mullet and Sano [1995], Nielsen [1999d], Shneiderman [1987], Tufte [1983], Weinshenk et al. [1997]. Rather than providing specific GUI design rules, the principles given in this chapter provide the basis for GUI design rules. They are based on the cumulative wisdom of many people, compiled over several decades of experience in designing interactive systems for people. They are also based on a century of research on human learning, cognition, reading, and perception. Later chapters of this book refer to these principles as rationale for why certain designs or development practices are bloopers, and why the recommended remedies are improvements.

This is Principle Numero Uno, the Main Principle, the mother of all principles, the principle from which all other user interface design principles are derived: Focus on the users and their tasks, not the technology.

Now that I've stated it, and you've read it, we're done, right? You now know how to design all your future products and services, and I needn't say anything more.

I wish! Alas, many others have stated this principle before me, and it doesn't seem to have done much good. And no wonder: it is too vague, too open to interpretation, too difficult to follow, and too easily ignored when schedules and resources become tight. Therefore, more detailed principles, design rules, and examples of bloopers are required, as well as suggestions for how to focus on users, their tasks, and their data. Not to mention that this would be a very thin book if I stopped here. Before proceeding to those more detailed principles, design rules, and bloopers, I'll devote a few pages to explaining what I mean by "focus on the users and their tasks."

Focusing on users and their tasks means starting a development project by answering the following questions:

  • For whom is this product or service being designed? Who are the intended customers? Who are the intended users? Are the customers and the users the same people?'
  • What is the product or service for? What activity is it intended to support? What problems will it help users solve? What value will it provide?
  • What problems do the intended users have now? What do they like and dislike about the way they work now?
  • What are the skills and knowledge of the intended users? Are they motivated to learn? How?
  • How do users conceptualize and work with the data in their task domain?
  • What are the intended users' preferred ways of working? How will the product or service fit into those ways? How will it change them?
It would be nice if the answers to these questions would fall out of the sky into developers' laps at the beginning of each project. But, of course, they won't. The only way to answer these questions is for the development organization to make an explicit, serious effort to do so. Making a serious effort to answer these questions takes time and costs money. But it is crucial, because the cost of not answering these questions before beginning to design is much, much higher.

1.1 Understand the users

Several of the questions listed above that developers should answer before starting to design are questions about the intended users of the product: Who are they? What do they like and dislike? What are their skills, knowledge, vocabulary, and motivation? Are they going to be the ones who make the decision to buy the software, or will someone else do that? These questions are best

7. Hint: The customer is the person who makes the buying decisions, while the user is the person who . . . well . . . uses the software. These different roles may imply different criteria and needs.

answered using a process that is part business decision, part empirical investigation, and part collaboration.

Decide who the intended users are

To a certain extent, the development organization needs to decide who it is developing the product or service for. It is tempting to decide that the intended user base is "everyone"; most development organizations want the broadest possible market. However, that temptation must be strongly resisted: a product or service designed for everyone is likely to satisfy no one. Developers should choose a specific primary target population as the intended user base in order to focus their design and development efforts, even if they suspect that the software might also have other types of users.

In reaching this important decision, the designers should seek input from other parts of the organization in order to assure that the target user base of the product or service is in line with strategic goals. In particular, developers should seek input from the Marketing and Sales departments because it is they who are usually responsible for identifying and categorizing customers. However, it is important to keep in mind that Marketing and Sales focus-as their job responsibilities dictate-on future customers of the product or service, whereas the designers need to understand the future users. A product's customers and its users are not necessarily the same people, or even the same type of people, so Marketing and Sales' ideas about who the product is aimed at may have to be filtered or augmented in order to be useful to designers.

Investigate characteristics of the intended users

As described above, understanding the users also requires empirical investigation. Empirical investigation means making an effort to learn the relevant characteristics of potential users. This investigation, first of all, provides information to guide the above-described decision: going out and surveying potential users helps developers discover specific populations of users whose requirements and demographics make them attractive as a target user base...

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: First Principles
Chapter 2: GUI Component Bloopers
Chapter 3: Layout and Appearance Bloopers
Chapter 4: Textual Bloopers
Chapter 5: Interaction Bloopers
Chapter 6: Web Bloopers
Chapter 7: Responsiveness Bloopers
Chapter 8: Management Bloopers
Chapter 9: Software Reviews
Chapter 10: War Stories of a User-Interface Consultant

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2001

    The best book for reviewing existing GUIs

    Combined with a set of standards this book provides great help in defining what a GUI should look like. I was looking for help with existing GUIs to show others what was wrong and at the same time provide help on how to fix the problems. This book is perfect. It has a great index and table of contents that helps one to quickly find the help for a GUI problem. Every typical GUI mistake has illustrations or screen dumps that show how to easy one can commit one of the GUI bloopers, but even better it shows how to fix it! It helps to be reminded of the problems ahead of time and have a single book to go to that shows what mistakes are possible. When laying out a new dialog I can go to the layout section and quickly review the section titles to remind myself not to commit the bloopers when in the design phase. When reviewing others GUIs I can use this book as a reference to put my objects into words. How many books do you know of that have been usability tested ahead of time? This one meets my high expectations by having useful information in the format I need it for quick reference and to give other that may not sit down and read the book cover to cover like I did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2000

    A Necessity for Designers and Developers

    GUI Bloopers should be on the desk of every designer and developer. If you are a developer tasked with designing an interface, this book will save you from being eaten by the alligators, and if you're a designer (whether new or experienced), it will help you design great interfaces in less time and with less work. Managers of projects with GUI interfaces should particularly read chapter 8 on management bloopers -- no, as a group, programmers are NOT qualified to design interfaces, any more than general contractors are qualified to design major office buildings, no matter what their managers want to believe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2000

    Entertaining (and you might learn something)

    As someone with no formal training and little professional experience in user interface design, yet involved in managing and developing software and web applications, I found this book invaluable. Relying on 20+ years of user interface design and usability testing, Dr. Johnson has created a compendium of the most common user interface design errors he has seen in software, web, and appliance interfaces. Illustrated with bountiful, clearly detailed examples, the book actually serves as a great primer on correct user interface design. The examples are hilarious (such as cryptic error messages like 'Nesting level too dip') and make you scratch your head and wonder how these bloopers ever made it into production software. Be careful though, because I began to cringe when I started seeing some of the bloopers in my own company's products. There is a woefully short supply of experienced user interface designers, as evidenced by the overwhelming number of user-unfriendly technology products available today from even the most well-respected companies. (Dr. Johnson himself explains that the 82 bloopers in the book represent a small subset of all of the bloopers he has seen and documented.) While you certainly won't become a UI design expert after reading this book, you will become more aware of proper design principles and how to avoid the most embarrassing mistakes. This book is both a fun, introductory crash course in UI design, and a useful, well-organized reference. From manager, to senior level programmer, to amateur java scripter or web master, no matter what role you play in software development or web design, read this book. Your customers will be happier, your application users will be more productive, and web surfers will get around your site much easier.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2000

    You Need This Book

    This is easily the best of the current crop of 'how to design good GUI' books. In a survey of ten such books for use in a graduate-level GUI design course, 'GUI Bloopers' won hands down. In spite of the title, 'GUI Bloopers' is substantive, comprehensive and informative. It covers all the basics of designing GUIs. It is extremely readable. You will come away with a solid understanding of what to do, as well as what not to do, when you set out to design your interface. The lessons imparted in Johnson's 83 basic bloopers, and his excellent commentary about WHY these are bloopers, will also make you a much better informed critic of UI designs. Chapters one and eight are the highlights of the book. To cap it off, Johnson usability tested his book, used the results in editing it, AND he reports on this in an appendix. A usability-tested usability book! Why did it take so long for someone to come up with that idea?

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