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The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems

4.2 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0201379372
ISBN-10: 0201379376
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"The book that explains why you really hate computers."

I've admired Jef Raskin for years. For those who don't know, he is the "Father of the Macintosh," one of the original geniuses who guided the Mac in the early days. But, more than a computer scientist, Raskin is a cognitive psychologist. He studies how the brain works with special emphasis on how that relates to us using computers. His magnum opus was the Canon Cat, which was an excellent and well-thought-out little computer.

In The Humane Interface, Raskin goes into detail describing how computers can be made easier to understand and use. Ever want to know why you really don't like Windows? The answer is in this book. In fact, there's so much in this book that makes sense, I really want to send a copy to every employee at Microsoft.

I loved reading this book and nodding my head in rabid agreement. Raskin states, "There has never been any technical reason for a computer to take more than a few seconds to begin operation when it is turned on." So why then does Windows (or Linux!) take so darn long to start up? The PalmPilot is on instantly, as is your cell phone. But for some reason, we tolerate the computer taking a few eons to start. (And until consumers complain about it, things won't change.)

Computers can be easy to use, and the people who design them and design software need to read this book. Do you ever get the impression that the person who designed a piece of software must have come from the same company that designed the front panel on your VCR? Why should you have to double-click anything? What does Ctrl+D mean one thing in one program and a completely different thing in another? And what's the point of the Yes/No confirmation if the user is in the habit of clicking Yes without thinking about it? Raskin neatly probes all these areas.

While I admire everything Raskin has to say, the book is pretty heavy on the psychology end. Myself, I enjoy cognitive psychology (especially books by Raskin's cohort Donald Norman), though some may find that part of the book boring. Even so, Raskin builds and backs his argument in a most eloquent and scientific manner. Especially if you design software or need to teach or train people to use computers, this book deserves a spot on your shelf. --Dan Gookin

From Library Journal

Falling somewhere between Donald A. Norman's The Psychology of Everyday Things and Ben Shneiderman's Designing the User Interface, Raskin's book covers ergonomics as well as quantification, evaluation, and navigation. Raskin was the original creator of the Apple Macintosh project before Steve Jobs took over and has a background in technology and art, which gives him a unique perspective on usability; recommended for university and large public libraries.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional (April 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201379376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201379372
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I recommend this book wholeheartedly and not only for the marketplace that includes application designers and web page developers, but also for the many who may be curious about the fundamentals of human-computer interaction. The book succeeds in providing a basic education in interface design principles. For me, an editorial director in magazine publishing working with a growing web department, the book was fascinating and stimulating. I now recognize interface elements that work well, or that do not, much more ably.
The book describes a set of elements that coalesce into a next-generation interface that could revolutionize the way people use computers. Jef does a brilliant job reducing quantification of interface activity to readily understandable terms. And for those who want a deeper, philosophic, scientific look, Jef very briefly delves into information theory to show how to evaluate the ultimate efficiency of drop down menus, error messages, and the like.
Jef has done an enormous amount of research and credits countless pioneers and researchers. His colorful and interesting sidebars and eclectic appendices are interesting side trips. Jef's work is an eloquent, humble, and inspirational salute to current knowledge that awaits implementation. But it is also a primer for every web page developer, every editor working with web page developers, and every application or operating system designer out there. Offering many practical insights, this book lucidly pursues the humane where computers and human lives are becoming ever more entwined.
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Format: Paperback
This book doesn't really contain "New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems" like it says on the cover. In fact, Jef's directions for designing interactive systems mostly revolve around his designs for the Canon Cat, which date from 1984-1987. Different, and a departure from what's become the norm (the WIMP, or Windows Icons Menus Pointers graphical user interface), but not new.
Readers may be annoyed by Jef's continued insistence throughout the book that the Cat contained such wonderfully efficient interface ideas, but there are some solid ideas presented. Highlights of this book include Raskin's introduction and description of Locus of Attention (approximately: involuntary focus), which may be as important for designers to consider as users' conscious focus. The concept of 'monotony' in interfaces is also interesting to consider as Raskin describes it, because he asserts this is a path that allows users to form efficient automaticity and focus on tasks rather than the interface. Also, chapter 4 includes an overview of GOMS analysis that does a good job of bringing it out of the academic esoteric realm into a place where more interaction designers will consider using it for commercial projects. Raskin's heuristics for good interaction design are spread throughout the book (would have been nicer if they were all corralled into one place for reference), but Appendix B comes close to summarizing them -- it is a document from Alzofon and Raskin's 1985 SwyftCard design.
Low points of the book include Raskin's annoying, overly specific notation for keystrokes that he uses throughout, the lecturing tone, the tedium of chapter five, and the goofy quantitative modality measure he proposes in chapter three.
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Format: Paperback
I found a lot to disagree with in this book. Mr. Raskin recommends that we dispense with GUI fluff that obscures more than it illuminates (not necessarily a bad idea) and replace it with a system in which your content IS the interface. While typing this review, for instance, I could type the word SAVE, select the word SAVE, and invoke a command to interpret the selected word as a command, thus saving the text to disk. Or type EMAIL (right here in the middle of this sentence!), select the command (and somehow also select the sentence), and tap a key to send the sentence off as an email. Or I can type an arithmetic expression into my text and evaluate it on the fly (which as we all know, most users need to do urgently and often). Truly out-there stuff, and I think that's admirable, but I also think it's wrong. Many of the book's proposed computing paradigms are based on the notion that most files are text files, when in reality, at least in today's systems, only a tiny percentage of files contain human-readable text. We've got applications, MP3s, video, pointers to content, content we've made ourselves, content from other sources. These data are different, and cannot all be tossed into a homogeneous soup and treated as text.
Moreover, the book has some "bugs" which limit its own useability. Mr. Raskin makes dozens of references to a product he designed and extols, the Canon Cat, but never actually explains what it is. I know that it lets users manage files without having to name them (interesting) but I don't know what kind of files they're making, so I can't decide whether this is a good idea. The book does not offer even a single screentshot of this device.
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