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on October 28, 1998
This is a great book if you know how to use it. Its not for people looking for cookbook approaches. Rather, it provides well argued information about the underlying principles of visual design. The authors ilustrate their points about grids, layout, typography, and color by showing examples of top notch efforts by some of the best information designers in the world.
Classic examples like the London subway maps and the National Park Service brochures are illustrated, along with excellent explanations of the design principles that make these particular design so successful.
The aurthors then go on to show how these examples can be applied to GUI design. And they are very gutsy as they show actual examples from actual software products that are "design failures". In fairness, they also show examples of well designed software, with explanations of why the design works so well.
This book is for a person who's willing to invest some time to learn about things like information hierarchies and information design. Like playing a piano, this isn't something one can master over night, but also like playing a piano, it has its own vast rewards.
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on March 30, 2001
Does everybody criticize your user interfaces but nobody seems to have any useful suggestions? This book is for you! Have you been expected to make user-friendly interfaces, but you have absolutely no background in design? This book is for you!
"Designing visual interfaces" provides an introduction to visual design that is very accessible to engineer types (like myself). Although people's reactions to various designs are "touchy-feely", the process to creating a good design is surprisingly scientific. You don't have to be an especially creative type of person to avoid the common pitfalls.
The book covers two or three related aspects of design in each chapter (such as Scale, Contrast, and Proportion). The first section of each chapter describes the principal variables that control those aspects. The simplest possible examples are presented first, typically black and white line drawings, then examples from industrial design and finally some examples from actual user interfaces. Then a "common errors" section shows examples of graphical user interfaces where these aspects of design are out of balance. Finally a "techniques" section gives handbook/cookbook approaches to avoiding the common errors. This section includes before and after screenshots.
The presentation is wonderfully uniform and consistent. Rather than using contrived examples, the authors have found real-life examples (many of which you will recognize) for all of the common errors.
This book does not cover how to map a problem domain to a user interface. It is assumed that you already understand the problem domain. It is not a style book for a particular operating system (the authors advocate using the vendor's guidebooks). What the book does is provide an introduction to basic design principals and set of procedures that you can follow to avoid the common pitfalls. Creative endeavors can take an undeterminable amount of time to achieve a desired reaction, but if you follow the author's procedures, which will take a consistent amount of time and effort, you will at least have done due-dilligence and have a professional looking product whose looks are guaranteed not to be a turn-off.
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on January 29, 2006
I originally stumbled upon this book about 10 years ago (probably the first edition, had a blackish cover) while skimming through the "user intreface" shelf at my college library. To be honest I picked it up just because of the quality of the edition: "it looked cool".

It turned out to be one of the most well written and interesting books on user interfaces I have read ever. The examples were great, very well chosen. I believe the physical elegancy of the book really got you into the right mood to start thinking about sleek interfaces and design issues in general.

Unfortunately, this is not that book. This is a terrible edition of what should be considered a must-have. I would recommend the older edition to absolutely everyone who needed to learn the basics of elegant UI design. But this edition? I would have never purchased it if I had known it was so poor.

Note: I have seen an edition bearin this same cover (green and yellow) but of the exact quality as the "black" version, but it isn't this one.


Try to get the older editions from a library or buy used. The graphics are so poor it basically isn't worth it.
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on August 19, 2002
This book should certainly not be your first book on GUI design. You might want to check out Alan Cooper "About Face", Johnson "GUI Bloopers" or a similar one which focuses in a broad way specifically on GUIs. If you are interested in Web design you might prefer the excellent "Don't make me thing" from Steve Krug. Even if you want to look at GUI design with a strong graphics bias you might first want to read the beautiful books of Tufte.
Having said that and you still make it to this book. You get an excellent treatment of the graphic aspects of design in general and at many places with special applications to GUIs. Examples are posters, maps, public transportation information, different GUIs including the NextStep. If you like Piet Mondrian, the Bauhaus ... then you enjoy the positive examples a lot. The book gives some theoretical background and tries to help build our taste by showing good and bad solutions to design problems.
The pictures are well reproduced (mostly black and white) and of good quality. The cover of the book is somewhat horrid (on line order saved me here from not buying it). Also it is extremely soft cover - way too soft for such a valuable book.
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on November 17, 2000
This is not a list of rules; it's a look at the underlying principles of interface design. Mullet and Sano take a point-by-point tour of the basic principles of visual design, bringing in good examples from a wide range of real-world products. Their examples range from computer interfaces to street signs. The authors do a fantastic job of illustrating these basic ideas; even the layout of the book is its own example. By itself, this book won't give you the recipe to program a good UI, but it will give you a starting point from which to build *great* UIs. Everyone involved in programming and designing software should read this book several times.
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on December 26, 2005
First off, it's almost 2006 and this book was written in 1994 (with the Mac OS6 screenshots to prove it). Most of the principles discussed in the book are timeless, but still, graphical interfaces have improved GREATLY since this book was originally written...

The images in the book are very poor...some of them even look like 2nd or 3rd generation photocopies. Most screenshots are from operating systems that haven't been used for more than 10 years, when personal computers were still in their infancy...and before the internet even took off.

Again, this book is well written and informative. Unfortunately, it's lacking a much needed revision and the images are almost unrecognizable.
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on August 31, 2001
This book has a lot of great information, and the layout (of the information) is actually pretty good. Unfortunately, the density and otherwise poor quality of the prose and editing obscure this. I can't believe a book that costs this much, and whose focus is presentation, would have such glaringly obvious errors. I've never seen a book with so many typos. It also uses the incredibly wordy and verbose style often found in the art world, a technique that does not exactly help in demystification of a topic that surely needs it. The good news is that I was preparing a technical writing class as I was reading the book and it provided a ready source for exercises.
A good rewrite of this book, with up to date examples, is overdue. In the mean time, if you can wade through the prose, the information is definitely there.
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on June 4, 1998
There's something irritating about a book on graphical design of interfaces that refuses to use chapter numbers in the Table of Contents (or for that matter anywhere except the first page of each chapter) even though the text references them. Unfortunately the authors also fail in the contents to fully integrate these two aspects of design.
The book really reads like two: examples of bad interface design, and a smorgasbord of interesting examples and tidbits from the graphic design lexicon. The former struck me as mostly common sense, while the latter just whet my appetite to read the sources in the bibliography.
Overall: worthwhile looking at, but not something I would actually refer to while designing.
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on February 11, 1998
This is the best book I've ever seen on how to design the graphical part of graphical user interfaces. I knew there was a whole world of knowledge out there in the graphic design community that could be applied to interface design, but that was inacessible to me until I read this book.
This is NOT an introductory book on interface design. If you haven't had coursework or other design experience yet, you should pick up a more comprehensive and introductory book first.
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on May 14, 1997
*Designing Visual Interfaces* deserves a wider audience. Its promotion of visual literacy for GUI designers is a worthwhile cause. Every GUI designer, which includes most programmers these days, should read this book!

*Designing Visual Interfaces* is a "nuts and bolts" design book with lots
of examples of bad and good interface design in present-day Graphical
User Interfaces. The authors attempt grand analogies with media that
offer richer opportunities for design--posters, timetables, appliances.
Sometimes it seems that returning to the same old dialogue boxes
is a bit of a come-down in the design world, the need to shove a lot
of info into a few pixels. Nonetheless, the book has lots of good
advice. Perhaps the reason it hasn't found wider readership is
that its own printing format, using small black and white images,
doesn't do justice to the careful thought they've put into their

The authors both worked on the Open Look standard, which is not my
favorite GUI. But fortunately their book is not a brief for that
standard. And they do have some good criticism of Microsoft Windows--well merited!
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