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Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules 1st Edition

89 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0123750303
ISBN-10: 012375030X
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Editorial Reviews


"Take fundamental principles of psychology. Illustrate. Combine with Fundamental Principles of Design. Stir gently until fully blended. Read daily until finished. Caution: The mixture is addictive"--Don Norman, Nielsen Norman group, Author of Design of Future Things.

"This book is a primer to understand the why of the larger human action principles at work―a sort of cognitive science for designers in a hurry. Above all, this is a book of profound insight into the human mind for practical people who want to get something done."-- Stuart Card, Senior Research Fellow and the manager of the User Interface Research group at the Palo Alto Research Centerfrom the foreword

"If you want to know why design rules work, Jeff Johnson provides fresh insight into the psychological rationale for user-interface design rules that pervade discussions in the world of software product and service development."--Aaron Marcus, President, Aaron Marcus and Associates, Inc.

"As anyone who has taken a course in human-computer interaction (HCI) will attest, cognitive science textbooks tend towards the drier end of the literary spectrum. The achievement of this book in making the material easily accessible is therefore nothing short of magnificent. It discusses the relevant scientific findings without any lack of scholarship, but always with an eye to how those findings can be put to practical use."--BCS, British Computer Society Online, November 2010

"Rather than simply presenting another list of rules, it discusses the cognitive psychology research findings which underpin the principles identified previously by the author and others. In other words, this is a book about people, and what we know about them as users of interactive systems."--BCS, The British Computer Society Online

"Anyone who designs or implements software user interfaces will benefit greatly from this book. Whether you create desktop software, websites, or mobile apps, this book will improve the quality of your work. Johnson makes the psychology and physiology understandable and seamlessly combines it with software engineering… Designing with the Mind in Mind is informative, fascinating, easy to read, and, most importantly, highly practical."-- ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering

From the Back Cover

Early user interface (UI) practitioners were trained in cognitive psychology, from which UI design rules were based. But as the field evolves, designers enter the field from many disciplines. Practitioners today have enough experience in UI design that they have been exposed to design rules, but it is essential that they understand the psychology behind the rules in order to effectively apply them. InDesigning with the Mind in Mind, Jeff Johnson, author of the best sellingGUI Bloopers, provides designers with just enough background in perceptual and cognitive psychology that UI design guidelines make intuitive sense rather than being just a list of rules to follow.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann; 1 edition (June 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 012375030X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0123750303
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.4 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeff Johnson is President and Principal Consultant at UI Wizards, Inc., a product usability consulting firm that offers UI design, usability reviews, usability testing, and training ( He has worked in the field of Human-Computer Interaction since 1978. After earning B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale and Stanford Universities, he worked as a user-interface designer and implementer, engineer manager, usability tester, and researcher at Cromemco, Xerox, US West, Hewlett-Packard Labs, and Sun Microsystems. At Xerox he worked on successors to Xerox's famed Star workstation. At Sun he worked for the "skunkworks" that produced Java. Jeff has taught at Stanford University and Mills College. He was an Erskine Teaching Fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch New Zealand in 2006 and 2013. He has published numerous articles and book chapters on a variety of topics in Human-Computer Interaction and the impact of technology on society (see He is a member of the ACM SIGCHI Academy. He has been recognized as a Pioneer in the Human Computer Interaction field (see He frequently gives talks and tutorials at conferences and companies on usability and user-interface design. He is the author of GUI Bloopers: Don'ts and Dos for Software Developers and Web Designers (2000), Web Bloopers: 60 Common Design Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (2003), GUI Bloopers 2.0: Common User Interface Design Don'ts and Dos (2007), Designing with the Mind in Mind (2010), and Conceptual Models: Core to Good Design (2011, co-authored with D. Austin Henderson). A second edition of Designing with the Mind in Mind was published in early 2014.

He is married to Karen Ande, a documentary photographer who works for relief organizations in Africa that support children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and who is also the author of a book (see

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 75 people found the following review helpful By kfinn on September 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
Designing with the Mind in Mind occupies a unique position in design literature, being neither a compendium of rules (do this, don't do that), nor a deeply detailed treatment of cognitive psychology. Instead, it offers accessible explanations of how the human brain affects our perceptions and behaviors, and then shows how these descriptions serve as the motivation for basic design principles.

Jeff Johnson's earlier books are more comprehensive on the design side (GUI Bloopers 2.0; Web Bloopers), but the present volume offers the reader deeper insight into the implications of a more modest sub-set of design principles. He uses bite-sized chapters and clear language to provide the psychological and biological background, often including fascinating research results. The examples he uses to illustrate his points are both compelling and accessible. (And politically correct: both Apple and Microsoft get some thumbs-down ratings.) The sections where he translates psychological observations into "computer jargon" are useful for engineers.

The droll headings and examples keep things lively. "Reading Is Unnatural;" "Our Attention Is Limited; Our Memory Is Imperfect": this sums up how I feel sometimes. I learned that the gap between what a user wants and what a user gets is called the "gulf of execution." And the usability test participant's comment, "I'm in a hurry, so I'll do it the long way." is priceless, as is the explanation: "Avoiding thought when using computers is important." (The participant suspected there might be a faster way to perform a task, but didn't want to take the time and effort to figure it out.)

Readers who implement user interfaces but don't have a background in cognitive psychology, or who have that background but might not know how to apply it to the world of user interface design, will get a lot out of this volume. Those who exist with one foot in each world will also enjoy it.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By RNS VINE VOICE on October 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Developed from a course titled "Human-Computer Interaction" that he taught at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, Dr. Jeff Johnson -- who holds degrees from Yale and Stanford, experience at Xerox and author of the book, "GUI Bloopers" -- offers contextual explanations as to how we visualize and categorize information, data and images in such a manner that engineers and programmers can design user interfaces in the most effective manner. It's a well-written, insightful and very practical guide that will be of interest to anyone interested in the how-and-why of computer/machine interface design.

Topics covered include:

How our visual perceptions are biased by experience, the current context, and user's intentions/goals;

How our vision is optimized to see structure; Gestalt principles of proximity, continuity, closure, symmetry, figure/ground separation and then how they are combined;

How structure enhances people's ability to scan long numbers; how visual hierarchy enables readers to focus on the most relevant information;

A discussion of psychological theory that indicates than we're "wired for language, but not for reading" and the design implications of these findings;

Limitations of our color vision and implications for how color is presented in user interfaces; the fact that user's peripheral vision is poor and common methods used to makes messages more visible (e.g. pop-ups, sound, and flash/motion);

Design implications regarding our limited short term and long term memory; how recognition and learning from experience for readers is typically easy while problem solving and recall is hard;

And, a discussion of time requirements for systems designers to consider.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By D. Bullock on September 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
This concise book by J. Johnson is filled with practical guidelines and rules of thumb for would-be designers of software-intensive, multi-function tools. Such e-tools' success requires an interface that creates direct, low-friction paths from the goals of the tool-user to the goal-promoting operations made possible by the tool, whether it be a word processor, a smartphone, or an MP3 player.

Whenever one specifies a guideline or rule of thumb, or announces a policy that is about to be adopted and enforced, it is wise to explain the reasoning behind it, even if one has the power to enforce its adoption. Detailing the reasons, in tandem with examples of good and bad practice, makes the rule more memorable, and more likely to be reconstructed by someone trying to recall what the rule is. The reasoning, if valid, will also undercut the natural tendency to ignore or actively subvert rules that appear arbitrary, with no better basis than the whim of some over-controlling personality.

An incredible thing about "Designing with the mind in mind" is that most of its guidelines are ultimately easy to remember and, equally important, "easy to swallow", that is, made as palatable as possible by the reasons and examples provided. Because the basis for each guideline is so well explained, the guidelines all make intuitive sense.

The reasons provided for the design guidelines are primarily drawn from cognitive psychology, and secondarily from neuroscience. Therefore, the title appropriately reads "with the mind in mind" and not "with the brain in mind". In a compact book (around 200 pages) that can be read in two sessions, it would have been a mistake to try to ground all the guidelines in neural constraints.
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