Customer Reviews: Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design
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HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon December 4, 2005
This book is different from most books on designing user interfaces since the ideas are presented as design patterns, much as you would see in Gamma's classic book on the subject had it been adapted to human-computer interfacing rather than programming. Each of the patterns and techniques presented in this book are intended to help the reader solve common design problems. Patterns and techniques are presented for web sites, desktop applications, and everything in between such as web forms, Flash, and applets. The user interface design patterns presented in this book are intended to be read by people who have some knowledge of UI design concepts and terminology: dialogs, selection, combo boxes, navigation bars, whitespace, branding, and so on. The book does not identify many widely-accepted techniques such as copy-and-paste, as it is assumed that you probably already know what this is. However, some common techniques are described here to encourage their use in other contexts -- for instance, desktop apps could make better use of Toplevel Navigation -- or to discuss them alongside alternative solutions. If you're running short on ideas, or hung up on a difficult design problem, skimming this book and its design patterns may help you produce a good solution.
Each pattern is presented with an image showing a possible implementation, a "Use When" section, a "Why" section, and a "How" section with very high level tool-independent implementation instructions. The patterns are organized into groups by function - organizing content, getting around, organizing the page, getting input from users, showing complex data, commands and action, direct manipulation, and stylistic elements.
I would highly recommend this logically structured book to anyone from programmer to graphic artist who might be involved in user interface design.
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on December 21, 2005
This book is lavishly illustrated and fun to read. The sections are color-coded and there are few pages without at least one full-color illustration. So often, Web app team workers and managers get grey on grey and so often our output reflects that.

There are flow patterns, layout patterns, widget patterns galore. All good, but the chapter that gave me the most food for thought was the last, "Making It Look Good: Visual Style and Aesthetics." A Stanford study indicates that the most important factor in Web site credibility is the appearance of the site. This is probably also true of Web applications, but not in the same way. I have often had to go toe to toe with developers and executive managers who want to jazz things up with a far heavier, "more impressive" graphical treatment. VPs and marketers want something snazzy to show clients -- but they forget that someone who actually has to *use* an application in their workday may not find "snazzy" to be attractive at all.

Reading this chapter gave me more confidence that the choices in typography, color balance, contrast, and whitespace our teams arrived at through much effort have been correct and beneficial ones.
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HALL OF FAMEon November 8, 2006
I arrived at "Designing Interfaces" with a hunger for detail and references as we head deep into revising the interface of a whole section of a web site I am in charge of. And the timing couldn't have been better. Jenifer (with one "n") Tidwell is right on the money when it comes to offering a broad range of options to address just about any interface design need you may run into. Her experience working with Matlab's Mathworks didn't limit her to offering advice for client software interface design.

Tidwell goes well beyond it, delving into web design and mobile interface waters, which she swims with equal comfort and efficiency. As a matter of fact, at times the presentation of samples from alternate media/platforms (client software or mobile) pulls those of us who are more comfortable within web application development out of our comfort zone, presenting us with innovative ways to solve old problems.

All in all, this becomes a must reference for anyone needing to learn or polish skills in software interface design for any medium. And this is not limited to designers: I am an Application Development Manager and I learned a lot from "Designing Interfaces" too.
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on March 20, 2007
Having already read through the first few chapters, today I sat down with an explicit need: to solve a problem that involved searching and filtering a large set of data. This book came through for me. Yes, some of it appears obvious when you first read through, but once you have a specific problem to address, its true utility emerges. I opened to the Showing Complex Data chapter, and as I read through, ideas began to form. Some came directly from the book, others were inspired by or related to what I was reading. I took notes, and those notes helped me develop the questions about the data and the users I need to answer in order to continue.

When you're faced with a design challenge, and you're a bit stymied as to how to proceed, this book will help move the solution forward. Even if you think you have a solution, this book can help you make it fresh and creative.
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on January 18, 2006
Let's start with the worst thing about the book - the title. The book is really a book of UI design patterns. You won't learn how to design an interface from reading this book. What you will get is a large collection of useful patterns and principles for applying them. Given my choice, I would have called the book "Interface Design Patterns and Principles."

The best thing about this book is that it hits its target spot-on: the intermediate-level designer. I have shelves full of beginner/introductory books and quite a few specialist books for advanced designers. However, before I got this book I had nothing at all that was good for the middle of that range. Tidwell doesn't waste pages trying to bring a beginner up to the point where she could understand and use these patterns, nor does she try to get into the kinds of esoteric details that would make someone a master. I found reading the book pleasant and informative.

One important metric for me of any O'Reilly book is its reference value. I don't expect them to produce step-by-step texts; rather, I use their books for answering questions, getting guidance, and giving insights. I feel this book does a fabulous job as a useful reference. I've already had several chances to refer back to it and I expect it to keep a prominent place on my reference shelf.

The patterns that Tidwell develops in the book are useful and I'm particularly glad she has included a large number of examples. I might wish for more negative or counter-examples, since it's sometimes easier to learn from mistakes, but I recognize that pointing out design errors can be a tricky business. Likewise, the organization of the patterns into groups is something that just about anyone could quibble about but we'd all agree that some sort of organization is necessary to make this a good reference and not just a laundry list, and the book does that well.
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on August 29, 2006
this is not a "how to design interfaces" book - more of a "here is what has worked in the past when people designed interfaces". it's great for inspiration, as its examples range across web apps, desktop apps, mobile devices and others.
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on November 9, 2006
This book takes an admirable stab at removing the arbitrariness in building an interface from scratch. Tidwell lucidly examines common gestalt design principles and their ramifications in actual designs of web pages, mobile devices and other graphical interface technologies. Proximity, for example, can mean the difference between intuitively linking items in an interface or intuitively creating a distinction between them. Other reviewers bash her for pointing out the obvious, but it is the cataloging, enumerating, condensing of the obvious (sprinkled with the insights of a professional) which makes this book helpful to anyone daunted by the task of making an app that is the Gmail to the quotidian, more-awful-to-use-by-the-second Hotmail.
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on January 9, 2007
Excellent resource in the various theories and ideas in Interface Design. While I tried reading it front to back, I found it much more useful to simply refer to the chapters I was interested in. Thus, I feel it is more of a reference book than a read-it-all-the-way-through book.
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on June 13, 2008
For many years now, I have been coding web sites and applications. Through all that time, nothing has ever been as tough for me as coming up with a design that I am truly happy with. Attempting to create an optimized and stable algorithm or coming up with the answer to a problem that requires non-conventional coding practices; these are always challenges, but ones that are most often eventually solved. Creating that mythical eye catching never-been-done-before layout is something that I have attempted and, sadly to say, usually fell short on. I suppose you'd consider this a case of a programmer wanting an application to not look like a programmer designed it. This was my reason for picking up the Designing Interfaces book.

The first chapter talks about how users think. However, as I finished the chapter introduction, I realized that the author and I are definitely coming from two very different places. In my experience, I get very little hands-on with the user base, or the client that the application is being built for. Even if I do talk to the client directly, instead of going through the levels of proper channels, they usually have a set design in mind, limiting my choices. That's not to say, however, that a good designer couldn't be creative given these design constraints. On the other hand, the author mentions that building a user profile is something that eats up a lot of time though it is always worth it, and while I agree whole-heartedly, sometimes a deadline approaches too quickly or it's just not in the budget to give this the time it truly needs. Past this quibble and reading on, the patterns of human behavior in the first chapter give an almost checklist of things to keep in mind when designing, and even though you read and probably think, "common sense", it is very helpful to have in one place.

As the chapters passed one by one, I found the same patterns in my reading emerge. Read the introduction to the chapters the first time you pick up the book to get an idea behind why that particular chapter is important, or, at the very least, for posterity. After that, just skip to the section in each chapter marked as "Patterns" when you need them. These patterns are where the book really shines. Each of these patterns are laid out in a similar way letting you quickly see what it is, when you would use it, why it is used (as in why it is beneficial to your user), how you create the pattern, and then some examples of its use. Considering that there are nine chapters, each with about ten different patterns, this book contains a wealth of information.

I was originally hoping for more of a design lesson; color theory, placement with a hint of golden ratios, maybe a small college art class packed into 331 pages. Though I did not get much of that, at least until the last chapter or two, I definitely found an excellent reference to keep by my side. For example, if I'm building a layout, I'll open the book right up to chapter 4 to see what the common options are; for showing hierarchical data, I'm opening up to chapter 6 to see when and for what reason I might want to go with a tree map over a normal tree. I couldn't recommend it more to someone wanting a helpful component pocket guide of sorts for interfaces, but if you are looking for theory, I'd go with something more geared in that direction.
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on February 20, 2006
The graphical approach to this book makes all the difference. The content is good, overall, but what makes it most useful is the ability to flip through the pages and see examples of how other software companies have deployed variations of interfaces (with both good and bad results).

If you're designing applications this belongs on your bookshelf.
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