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71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2000
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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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2000
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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164 of 196 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2001
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. Same goes for Swyftware, another oft-cited product with which the author assumes we are familiar, when we are not (Google reports only 7 references on the Web). Instead of showing us pictures these paragons of design in action, the book devotes precious glossy color plates to a gallery of black & white icons, a Windows menu bar, a photo of a grey radio and other illustrations in which color is meaningless.
In this book Mr. Raskin is really thinking, and he does back up his ideas with (talk of) empirical data. And as someone who has developed both hardware and software, he is not afraid to propose alternative input devices and new keys added to the keyboard. That's interesting stuff. But so many ideas just seem wrong. I don't think people want their computer to process keypresses while it is asleep. I don't think people are suffering for lack of a quicker way to enter a Carriage Return character into a search & replace dialog. And I don't think people want to have to learn a command-line interface and then type up their own menus (suffering through syntax errors in the process) to attain the convenience of a GUI. It's a novel book, but I won't recomment it on that basis alone.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2002
Raskins' "The Humane Interface" is cut from the same cloth as Alan Cooper's "About Face", Jeff Johnson's "GUI Bloopers", and Bruce Tognazzini's "Tog on Interface". I prefer Johnson's books to the others due to its thoroughness, even-handedness and case-study orientation. As in Cooper's and Tognazzini's books, many of Raskin's recommendations are tried and true, whereas others are much more speculative.
Raskin thoroughly grounds his book in cognitive theory, which for a cognitive scientist like me, is highly refreshing. Others might not appreciate the theory as much, but this is clearly the meat of the science of UI design. But this is not a book on cognitive psychology, so it quickly moves on to discuss "cognetics", which he describes as the ergonomics of the mind. Like most UI designers, Raskin has semantic qualms with the term "intuitive", but introduces "affordances" as a stand-in. An affordance is simply something that's familiar from your earlier experiences. Combined with "visibility", they form the backbone of easy-to-use-out-of-the-box UI design. Raskin quite rightly denies the zero-sum nature of design for novice versus design for experts, claiming you can build well for both by following the domain. There's an excellent discussion of Fitt's Law, which predicts how long it will take to land a mouse on a screen object based on size and distance. I also appreciated the clear explanation of the GOMS keystroke model and his subsequent application of information theory to the design of a farenheit-celsius converter.
Getting more concrete, Raskin delivers the obligatory rant against modes. In a novel twist, he then introduces a nifty notation of the elementary actions of today's GUI's (mouse down, key clicks, selection, mouse movement, etc.), which brings him much closer to the engineering side of interface design than any of the competing books. There is an excellent description of in-text search, using emacs (the text editor of choice for the world's programmers) as an example. The section on commands and transformers, the basis of the Unix operating system and software design within it, indicate that emacs wasn't the only thing Raskin picked up before he designed the Mac UI.
I was completely unconvinced by Raskin's radical suggestions for redesigning (really discarding) the notion of file. I can't imagine making his concept of LEAP work in practice. I'm not even sure I understood the description. I was equally unimpressed by his "Zoomworld" suggestions for navigation.
"The Humane Interface" doesn't break much new ground, but its solid foundations and smattering of sharp insights make it a worthwhile edition to any UI designer's bookshelf.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2000
I can not over-emphasize how absolutely important it is for everyone involved in the design or programming of computer software--no matter how big or how small--to read this book. Even designers of non-computer interfaces, like for steroes or vcrs, would benefit from reading it.
The book doesn't just explain the dos and don'ts of interface design--it also clearly explains the WHYS, by going into the psychology of the human mind and explaining interface design from that standpoint.
It is true that the book goes outside the realm of currently-used computer systems, and introduces ideas that can't immediately be put to good use. But that is necessary to get a complete picture of the concepts. (Not to mention the help that it might give to someone who decides to go about designing an all-new computer or operating system of his or her own. This is a hint for all you inventors out there.)
And it isn't just the individual ideas themselves. After finishing the book, I began to have an all-new way of thinking about programming; a whole new attitude which is helping me with some of the projects I'm currently working on. A creative mind can think of many new ideas based on the general concepts presented here, other than the specific things that Raskin mentions.
The book is, for the most part, very pleasant to read (a page-turner!) and focused on the concepts. Very professionally done.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2003
At first, I was really disappointed with this book. The "thick" writing style hides the presentation of straightforward concepts in long paragraphs and dense text. Be prepared to mull through the page looking for italics.
Additionally, the "God complex" attitude conveyed by Jef really should have been caught by an editor. The didactic tone is a real turn-off. And, as other reviewers have pointed out, there is little practical advice, beyond Jef's "this is what I did" anecdotes.
After saying this, there are many valuable concepts presented in the book (for a list, see the table of contents). If the book goes to a second edition, an editor and a technical writer should be part of the writing team. This would make it more readable and referenceable; making it easier to recommend.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2000
The book opens with a brief look at cognetics. Studying how the mind works, such as matters of attention and habituation, clarifies why many popular designs are often so COUNTERintuitive. Once you have that background, Raskin starts defining terms. Then, he provides formulas for analyzing interface efficiency. As valuable as usability testing can be, it's nice to add some objective measurements to the toolbox.
The last half of the book looks at some popular current practices in software, and points out ways they violate the principles expressed in the first half. Some of his ideas are quite radical, but definitely thought-provoking. I wonder if anyone in the Open Source community would be interested in taking a crack at developing a new system based on these proposals.
Raskin designed the Apple Macintosh and CanonCat systems, both of which are used as frequent examples. An appendix on why the Mac chose the one-button mouse is a must read for any Mac partisan (pro or con). Because the CanonCat is so obscure, I do wish he provided more information (especially pictures) on how it actually looked and worked. But that's a minor quibble.
As someone new to the profession of UI Design, this book has proven invaluable. I'm already using his terminology to explain issues to developers. And I'm still ruminating over some of the other proposals in the last half of the book.
If you've read last year's popular book "The Inmates Are Running The Asylum" by Cooper, you understand the problem exists. This is a good follow-up to start you on the road to fixing it.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2001
This is a great book! It goes into considerable depth about how people think and how the way we process information should affect computer interface design. The two key concepts are the singular nature of the human locus of attention, and the human ability (and compulsion) to habituate behavior. The author then details how he would design a whole new way of interacting with computers to take advantage of these two key concepts. I found the author's ideas intriguing and his point of view a direct, if somewhat idealistic, challenge to the current human/computer interface paradigm.
What this book isn't, however, is a practical guide for how to improve your own design. This is a very theoretical text (although extremely easy to read), not a reference or a checklist. Be sure you are aware that the book is trying to give you a foundation and a point of view, not a tutorial. Once you recognize that, it is a tremendous read!
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2001
There are two categories of people who should read this book:
1) those who write programs and design user interfaces (which today includes everyone who builds a Web page, and
2) those who don't.
For the first category of folks, the point is clear -- there are some well-researched principles to designing user interfaces, and you should know about them before you write code for human consumption. As a matter of fact, the references and bibliography alone are probably worth it for serious programmers.
For those of us in the second category, the book is a glimpse into a world where computers serve useful functions in a simple way. Rather than the complicated, feature-bloated and overly cryptic machines we use today, computers are presented as being capable of adapting themselves to our work, fading into the subconscious, and allowing us to focus on the work itself.
Everyone should come away with an almost obvious thought or two they've never realized, but upon reflection will say, "you know, that's right!" Nothing is taken for granted, and you will never view such standard user interface components as logins and passwords, file systems or text searches the same way.
I'm afraid it will be years before hardware, software, operating systems and development tools catch up to some of these concepts, but there is nothing in it that couldn't technically be implemented today.
Get this book, and pay attention to the footnotes!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2003
This is a book on user interface design by the father of the Macintosh and the information appliance.

Like most people I find computers frustrating to use. Raskin explains some of the reasons why this is, and also points to better ways of designing software for real people. But some of his ideas seem hard to apply to modern networked computers.

One of the most important ideas is that "An interface is humane if it is responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties". Humans cannot remember what state or mode the software is in, interfaces should minimize distractions so we can focus on the task at hand.

Many of his ideas can be applied today, others require a redesign of human-computer interaction. His proposal to replace applications with commands is intriguing. The book doesn't quite show how that would work

Many of the ideas based on the Canon Cat and original Macintosh that Raskin implemented years ago. This seems to prove their feasibility, but it's hard to see how "leaping" would apply to modern networks and file systems.

I was saddened to learn that Jef Raskin passed away this week. It's exciting to learn though that his Raskin Center for Humane Interface has been funded to carry on his work.

The book has inspired me to explore the topic of humane design in more depth, and to try to apply these principles in my job as a software designer, and in my own projects.
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