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An Annotated List of Interaction/Web Design Resources, Books and Websites

This list provides resources about web design, usability, and related topics.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Resources>Bibliographies>User Interface>Usability


The Art of User Interface Prototyping

It takes a certain craft to know how and when to build prototypes of web designs or software designs. This primer of prototyping explains when and how to build them.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>User Interface>Usability


The Best of CHI-WEB and SIGIA-L

The chi-web and sig-ia mailing lists are two email based discussion groups on the topics of web usability, design and human computer interaction (the later with a heavier emphasis on information architecture). To subscribe to chi-web, read the info page or to get a better flavor for what happens there, use its full searchable archive. Alternatively, you can join sigia-l from here or view the sigia-l archive . Using the archives for each mailing list, I've compiled a list of the summary postings from useful threads, and a few personally selected favorite postings. Please note: my list below is not an exhaustive list of summary postings. I just picked the ones I found most salient and valuable for reference. Also, these summaries are collections of contributing posts: they are a mixture of opinions and commentary, with some references to reports, usability data, websites or books.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb. Resources>Mailing Lists>Web Design>Multimedia


Critical Thinking in Web/Interface Design Part 1

At the heart of design and engineering is critical thinking. The ability to separate what is worthwhile from what isn't is the hallmark of the best in many fields, from film directors to project managers, programmers to designers.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Critical Thinking in Web/Interface Design Part 2: Idea Generation

How do you cultivate good ideas? What process do you use? This issue discusses how critical thinking relates to generating and managing good ideas in design.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Designing on Both Sides of Your Brain

There is every reason to use logical and creative approaches when working on any kind of design problem. The best designers know how to switch between approaches, and bring together both kinds of thinking into a process for discovering and crafting the best ideas.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2002). Design>Web Design>Methods


Fitts's User Interface Law Applied to the Web

Interface design is difficult in part because everything requires interpretation. A design that works for one task or one user might not be appropriate for another. In other types of engineering, like architecture or bridge building, designers can always rely on laws of physics and gravity to make designs work. There is at least one immutable rule for interface design that we know about, and it's called Fitts's Law. It can be applied to software interfaces as well as Web site design because it involves the way people interact with mouse or other pointing devices. Most GUI platforms have built-in common controls designed with Fitts's Law in mind. Many Web designers, however, have yet to recognize the powerful little facts that make this concept so useful.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>User Interface>Human Computer Interaction>Web Design


How To Avoid Foolish Consistency

People don't like to learn things. If they take the time to learn something, they expect to be able to apply that knowledge in many places. It follows that good designers conserve the number of things users need to learn to get stuff done. The streets in American cities are good examples of conservation of knowledge. Anywhere in America, yield and stop signs look exactly the same. Traffic lights use red, yellow, and green to mean precisely the same things regardless of the street or city. Mailboxes on street corners use the same colors and icons, so they are clearly identifiable anywhere. It becomes difficult for people when their knowledge of things breaks down. A driver from a country with different street signs who visits America will make mistakes until they learn the new signs. Even subtle variances like the difference in speed of two different yellow traffic lights can cause American drivers to make mistakes.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>User Interface>User Centered Design


How to Get the Most Out of Conferences

Conferences are what you make of them. If you’re not sure why you’re going, or what you want to get out of the experience, you’re unlikely to get it. This essay gives one perspective on conferences, and how to make them more valuable and engaging experiences. I think in general professional conferences take a very conservative approach to training and education, and it demands that attendees take more responsibility for getting value from the experience than should be necessary.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2003). Academic>Conferences>Collaboration


The Importance of Simplicity

Web sites and software often compete with each other based on the features they provide. The popular assumption is that the more features a product has, the better it will be. The truth is that features improve a product only if they are actually used by the customer. In most cases the proliferation of features in products creates more complexity than value. Each feature gets an icon or a link on a Web site or toolbar, and is yet another item that the user needs to wade through before they can find the one that they need. Web sites are still young, but many Mac and Microsoft® Windows applications show the carnage of years of feature wars with competing products. Over the years I've learned a few things about how to keep interfaces simple, and simultaneously keep the power intact for more sophisticated users.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>Usability>User Centered Design


INTERACTIONARY: Sports for Design Training and Team Building

This is an experiment in design education. The idea is to explode the process of design by forcing insane time constraints, and asking teams of designers to work together in front of a live audience. From what we've seen, it forces the discussion of design process, teamwork, and organization, and asks important questions about how designers do what they do. Below are summaries of previous events, and information about how to organize your own Interactionary.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Articles>Management>Collaboration


Leadership in Collaboration: Film Making and Interaction Design

There are useful parallels between making films and making web sites or software products. We'd be wise to study how they manage creativity, and how our divisions of effort, and means of collaberation, compare and contrast.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2002). Design>Collaboration>Interactive>Multimedia


The Long List of Reasons Ease of Use Doesn't Happen on Engineering Projects

A list of the most common reasons engineering projects don't result in something that's easy to use. It covers diverse topics such as customer confusion, the impact of code architecture, the spinal tap commerative reason, and more.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2002). Design>Usability>User Centered Design


Making Usable Products: An Informal Process for Good User Interfaces

At Microsoft we have full-time employees, called usability engineers, who are trained to help product teams understand what the user's needs are, and analyze how well our product user interfaces match those needs. They do a great deal of work, and understand the discipline of UI design and data collection really well. They are critical to the success of our products. As I've learned from the e-mail I've been getting at hfactor@microsoft.com, most developers don't have the luxury of this kind of support, and are on their own to make good interface design decisions. This issue will introduce a basic development process that helps good UI make it into products. Word of warning: There is no magic recipe for good UI, or for writing good code, and I can't guarantee improved interfaces without some extra effort.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>User Interface>Usability


The Myth of Optimal Web Design

Perfection in design is not possible. No matter how much is known about a given business, user group or technology, you can not simultaneously satisfy all possible objectives. For any website or user interface, there are no mathematics, and no algorithms, for deciding which objectives to satisfy in a single design, or even for accurately defining an optimal solution within any of those objectives. There are usability, design and business methods that effectively evaluate and illuminate promising directions , but they are sensitive tools, that work more as guides, rather than maps. In general, any form of design involves too many simultaneous possible objectives and forms of solutions to enable any overall mathematical or algorithmic based confidence. An optimal design, in the broadest sense, is a mythical idea.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface


The Power of the Usability Lab

You cannot build a useful product or Web site without usability testing. If you have never watched someone use your designs in a usability lab, you are taking shots in the dark. You can't possibly know whether your hard work is making things better or worse. The features you are focusing on may be things that no one really needs, or could never figure out. Without regular sessions in the usability lab during the development cycle, projects are guaranteed to head in directions that do not benefit the users of the product. As a developer, you should have deep interest as to whether your hard work is making the product better. It's in your interest to make sure your work gets examined in the labs, so that you can make adjustments and ensure that you are making the best possible product for your users.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>Usability>Methods


The Role of Flow in Web Design

How can a design make your web pages feel natural for users? How do you achieve flow in site navigation and design structure?

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Design>Web Design>Methods


The Role of Project Managers in Interface Design

This describes the role that I played as program manager for IE5.0, and the basic process we used. It's a good anecdote as to how one team managed the cross discipline work of design and usability, with the engineering and development process.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>Project Management>User Interface


Strategic Usability: Partnering Business, Engineering and Ease of Use

It's easy to fall into working in response to how things are going, instead of using usability engineering as a way to help lead a team in the right direction. Thinking strategically about the connections between business goals, and engineering practices can can help.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2002). Design>Usability


Strategies of Influence for Interaction Designers

Unless you have the power to make business and development decisions for your project, some of your energy will be spent influencing those who do. Experienced usability engineers or interaction designers may have limited skill in influence, despite how significantly it can effect their ability to contribute to projects. It’s the smartest and most effective designers that work to understand the human to human interaction within their project teams, as part of their work towards better human to computer interaction.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2001). Design>Web Design>Interaction Design>Multimedia


User Interface That Kills: Swords, Craft, and User Interfaces

The greatest challenge in web or software design is creating a work of deep craft. That is, the presence of the designers and programmers coming through to make the user feel as though you were really trying to make them happy. For many products, I can point to specific parts that in isolation made me feel that way, but it's rarely carried through consistently. Web sites always have rough edges: search results pages that are ugly and hard to read, error pages that are incomprehensible, JavaScript pop-up menus that appear and disappear awkwardly, with visible repainting and redrawing, home pages to well-known Web sites that are garish, cluttered, and cold.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>User Interface>Web Design


The Web Shouldn't Be a Comedy of Errors

Nothing says more about what you think of your users than error messages. The moment things go wrong is the moment users need you most. Software products, including some Microsoft® products, have developed bad reputations for cryptic error messages that are hard to understand or resolve. What's alarming is that Web site user interfaces are just as bad, or worse, in their handling of problem situations. We've taken a step backward in the baseline for acceptable treatment of our customers. Here's a short guide for handling errors well, on the Web or in Windows.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>Web Design>Usability


Why Are Good User Interfaces So Hard to Make? Three Insights into Good Design

Last year at Internet World a woman asked me why software and Web sites were so hard to use. Let's call her Pandora. I told Pandora that either we aren't smart enough yet, or the industry has not matured to the point at which well-designed products are required for companies to be profitable. She didn't buy it. She swore that sometimes we just did it on purpose. She laughed when she said it, but I think she meant it. It's my job to make simple-to-use products, and I took what she said to heart. I said that we really are trying, and that we're getting better at it all the time. She walked away unimpressed. I went back to the hotel bar that night and thought about why things are the way they are with the Internet and computers.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>User Interface>User Centered Design>Web Design


Why Good Design Comes from Bad Design

When I was a computer science/philosophy student at CMU, I took a design project course to learn about all of this interface design stuff I'd heard about. The first day of class I arrived at the studio room, and found a young man at a drawing table, sketching out different variations of the Walkman® he was designing. I got close enough to see the large sketchpad and saw 30 or 40 different variations that he had considered and put down on paper. I introduced myself, pleaded ignorance about design, and asked him why he needed to make so many sketches. He thought for a second, and then said, 'I don't know what a good idea looks like until I've seen the bad ones.' I smiled, but was puzzled. I felt like going back across campus to the computer science labs. If he's a designer, shouldn't he make fewer sketches instead of more? I didn't really understand what he was talking about until many years later.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>User Interface


Why Great Technologies Don't Make Great Designs

This essay explains why so many technologies fail to solve people's problems, and offers a business and engineering philosophy for creating better technologies.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>Usability>Engineering

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