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Book Review: Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott And Theresa Neil

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Working from the authors’ years of experience, the goal of Designing Web Interfaces is to distill into six principles, what it takes to create great user experiences on today’s web. By grouping these best practices into principles, they hope to help you take advantage of what they learned while designing interfaces at Sabre, Yahoo!, and Netflix, as well as give you the ability to build a new, or renovate an existing website to be truly interactive.

Designing Web Interfaces is written for anyone who specifies, designs, or builds web interfaces. It contains real world examples in the context of design principles and patterns, and has a companion website to serve as an addendum for updated examples, thoughts, and helpful links to articles and resources. It contains 332 pages divided in to 14 chapters further divided into 6 sections. I will break it down by the six principles.

Principle 1, “Make it Direct” begins with a statement from interface guru Alan Cooper that says where there is output, let there be input. That is what this principle entails. The human mind looks at the process of input and output as one and when designing your interface you should too. In this section you will look at in-page editing, drag and drop, as well as applying actions to directly selected objects.

Principle 2, “Keep it Lightweight” focuses on creating a lightweight foot print on your site by the use of Contextual Tools. These are the Web’s version of the desktop’s right-click. These are the kind of tools that reveal themselves in context with the content. Here you will see the best practices for working with secondary menus and contextual tools in general to make significant impacts on user interaction.

Principle 3, “Stay on the Page” concentrates on keeping the users flow constant. Unfortunately, page refreshes cause a break in the action causing an unpleasant experience in the user’s eyes. Instead of assuming a page refresh for every action, you need to get back to modeling the user’s process. You must decide intelligently when to keep the user on the page. Here you will examine overlays where a mini page is displayed, inlays where information is inlaid within a page, use of virtual pages, and instead of moving page to page, creating in-page flows.

Principle 4, “Provide an Invitation” looks at discoverability which is one of the primary challenges for rich interaction on the web. Just because you have a wonderful feature, if your users don’t discover it, it is meaningless. In this principle you will learn to use the art of invitation to cue the user to find the next level of interaction. The two types that you will look at are static invitations where they are offered on the page and dynamic invitations where they come into play where the user is interacting.

Principle 5, “Use Transitions” explores the use of animations, cinematic effects, and other various types of visual transitions to enhance the user experience. Here you will examine the use of engagement, communication, transitional patterns for the purpose of using transitions to improve the user experience. You will also explore the reasons for using these effects and where they are most appropriate.

Principle 6, “React Immediately” describes that a responsive interface is an intelligent interface. By using lively responses, you can create rich experiences for you user. In this section you will focus at two types of patterns. First you will see lookup patterns that include techniques like auto complete and live search, and then feedback patterns that cover items like live preview and progress indication to show you how to provide the best reactions for your user. The emphasis is on communications, feedback, and engagement.

Designing Web Interfaces is a well thought out, well designed book that provides a wealth of information for anyone who is involved with website design and development. It is detailed and to the point and provides a lot of examples to gain experience from and covers today’s technology very well.

Designing Web Interfaces is not a book about coding instead, this is a theory book on designing interfaces. What I like about it is that it is a “something to think about” type of book that does not shove someone else’s idea’s at you, but rather provides a reflective look at how humans think and how to build a website to work with people. I also like the fact that it is in color and provides excellent examples of the topics discussed. If you are designer, web developer, or even a manager of a web based product, you really must have this book.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.