Design & Usability resources

An Annotated list of Interaction/Web design resources, books, and websites

This list provides additional resources about web design, usability, and related topics.
Send me your exceptional suggestions.  Last updated February
18, 2005.

The foundation places to start

The Alertbox: Current Issues in Web Usability
Jakob Nielsen’s semi-monthly column on Web usability. Usually pretty sharp, meaty stuff. Some attention to business issues, but mostly UI and usability.

Interface designer Bruce Tognazzi’s Web site. Monthly columns on UI design issues.

Usable Web
Clearinghouse of Web resources on UI design, with a focus on Web page and Web site design. Well categorized, searchable… great reference. (No longer updated – but still a handy resource).
Great introductory information about usability studies and usability engineering. including answers to many frequently answered questions.

Books on Web Design

Don’t make me think, Steve Krug. If I could place one book on every web designer or developer’s chair, this would be it. Simple, funny, direct, practical, short. Ideal as a first book on usability and web design, and possibly for software designers too.

Information Architecture: Blueprints for the web, by Christina Wodtke. A pracitcal and human approach to the foundations and core ideas of structuring websites. This is only slightly more formal than Don’t make me think, and more focused on process than the former. Solid

Information Architecture for The World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites, Louis Rosenfeld/Peter Morville. A foundation book in the growing field of information architecture. Broader in scope and more coverage than other IA books, but also more formal. Depending on your reading style, this might end up as reference, more so than a cover to cover read.

Designing Web Usability, Jakob Nielsen. For practical and direct information on the details of Web site or page design, there is nothing better than this book.

W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
. The group that defines the HTML standard has a set of references for how to make Web pages accessible. Important information for increasing the number of people who can sucessfully visit a site.

Books on Interface Design/Usability

About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design, Alan Cooper. Specific commentary on the misuse of error messages, toolbars, and other common elements. Some conclusions are debatable and the approach strays at times to pure opinion or to invention of new names for relatively common types of elements, so apply to your own products with care. Overall, the discussion and arguments are insightful and inspiring. When thinking about solutions, a quick flip through this book should help get ideas flowing.

The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman. Overview of cognitive psychology in the context of everyday objects. Excellent way to get started, or to give it to developers who need some basic perspective. Lots of fun, real-world examples.

Usability Engineering, Jakob Nielsen. Excellent discussion of techniques for measuring the usability of interfaces. Equally applicable to Web sites or traditional software products.

Tog on Interface, Bruce Tognazzini. Collection of essays from ex-Apple UI designer Bruce Tognazzi. Macintosh UI is used in most examples, but the text and opinions are well done and apply to any UI. Covers most of the core concepts for interface design.

Designing Visual Interfaces: Communication Oriented Techniques, Kevin Mullet/Darrell Sano. Well-crafted book that focuses on the visual and aesthetic qualities of user interfaces. This is one of the better discussions of these aspects applied to UI.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward R. Tufte. Amazing book that expresses different techniques for presenting information. The book itself is a great work of design. Emphasis on how to present complex information in simple, attractive, and meaningful ways.

SET Phasers On Stun: and Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error, Steven Casey
Collection of true short stories about how human factors and technologies caused injuries, destruction, or terror. Not much analysis, but some of the stories are worth showing to people who think UI design isn’t worth the time.

Digital Woes: Why We Should Not Depend on Software, Lauren Ruth Weiner. Well-written analysis of why it’s so hard to create reliable software. Humorous at points, and filled with great examples of real-world problems caused by software failures, followed by examinations of why they happened. Recommended for end users or programmers who don’t seem to understand how challenging the core issues are.

Gary Perlman’s UI reading list. Good
annotated list, with cover shots. This is quite good.

Jakob Nielsen’s UI reading list. Another good annotated list.

General Books on Design

The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petroski. How everyday artifacts from forks and pins to paper clips and zippers came to be as they are. It takes time for truly useful designs to evolve.

Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek. Pointed essays about how most designs fail to solve real problems. The first few chapters include diagraming techniques for solving design problems, and interesting thoughts on the role designers need to play.

To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Sucessful Design, Henry Petroski. Is failure unavoidable on the path to a sucessful design? Petroski analyzes some of the more interesting design failures in the last century, with probing analysis and summation of how and why designs reach points of failure.

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, Stewart Brand. Wonderful book on what happens to buildings after they’re built, and how users modify them and adjust them to fit their changing needs. This book is highly relevant to software, and most of the discussion on failiures of initial designs, lack of end-user focus, and failure to solve problems is easily applied to software. The pictures alone make this book a
must have.

Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen, Steven Katz. Thoughtful summary and discussion of techniques used in pre-production of a film. The techniques for storyboarding and the rich language for shots and sequences is interesting. They make the techniques for pre-production of software look somewhat immature.

Design / Usability Conferences

CHI – Perhaps the most popular
interface design and human factors conference. Previous proceedings available on the
Web site.

Interact – A major international conference that presents leading-edge research and development in all aspects of interactive
computer systems and technology.

UPA Usability Professionals’ Association – A forum to promote usability concepts and techniques worldwide.

AIGA – American Institute of graphic arts – One of the largest professional graphic design organizations. Developing special groups on interaction and web design.

Guidelines/Data and References

Usability Heuristics – Jakob Nielsen’s summary of heuristic evaluation. This is a simple way to review UI and make sure it solves problems. After you have pictures or with an existing UI, you consider each heuristic and note any items that aren’t up to par.

GVU’s WWW User Surveys – GVU did annual surveys of various kinds of internet usage until 1998 or so. Most people are stunned that stuff like this actually exists, for free, on the Internet. Yeah, the data is old, but some of it is still useful.

Yahoo’s WWW Statistics and Demographics – Another place to find surveys.

Related Sites

Boxes and Arrows – Great monthly webzine
on usability, design and IA. Check out their archives.

Bad Human Factors Designs – List of real-world
bad user interfaces with pictures (non-software UI).

One Response to “Design & Usability resources”


Leave a Reply

* Required