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User Interface Design for Programmers Paperback – January 23, 2006
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From the reviews:
"He picks apart commercial products from big companies, showing their UI mistakes. I love that."
Dr. Dobb's Journal
"The author of a popular independent website gives you a book about what programmers need to know about user interface design. Spolsky concentrates especially on the common mistakes that too many programs exhibit. Most programmers dislike user interface programming, but this book makes it easy, straightforward, and fun. It is written with an audience of programmers in mind, but does not assume any prior programming knowledge nor any specific programming language." (Amazon.co.uk, April, 2001)
"This book offers many useful pointers on designing user interfaces which even experienced programmers should need. The 18 chapters cover topics ranging from effective use of colour to metaphors and usability testing. Underlined throughout is the most fundamental principle that ‘a user interface is well designed when the program behaves how the user thought it would’. The style is informal, humorous and anecdotal. There are numerous examples of design at its worst, each with an explanation of why the design is poor." (Richard Avery, The Computer Bulletin, March, 2002)
About the Author
Joel Spolsky is a globally recognized expert on the software development process. His web site Joel on Software (JoelonSoftware.com) is popular with software developers around the world and has been translated into over 30 languages. As the founder of Fog Creek Software in New York City, he created FogBugz, a popular project management system for software teams. Joel has worked at Microsoft, where he designed Visual Basic for Applications as a member of the Excel team, and at Juno Online Services, developing an Internet client used by millions. He has written two books: User Interface Design for Programmers (Apress, 2001) and Joel on Software (Apress, 2004). Joel holds a bachelor's of science degree in computer science from Yale University. Before college, he served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a paratrooper, and he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Hanaton.
Top customer reviews
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I do feel like there were some good points raised, but only a couple of them in the 18 chapters were really innovative viewpoints. (The rest were things you would expect to hear in any book on UI design).
The book BADLY needs to be updated. It's quite obvious that it was released before Windows XP, since many of the gripes that the author has about Windows were addressed with XP (including the "start button is a few pixels from the corner" issue) -- and the author continuously refers to bandwidth / lag issues on the Internet; which, if you haven't been living under a rock the past 3 years, is pretty much a non-issue anymore as broadband becomes more and more ubiquitous.
The conversational tone of the book was nice, at times, but I felt it deviated from my expectations of the book based on the title. (my "user model" differentiated from the book's "program model" so to speak) There really wasn't anything about the book that involved programming -- very few actual examples were used, and really, I'm not sure that I'm taking home anything that is going to help my UI design at all. It would be like someone telling you ABOUT their experience fishing: ("Make sure you get a decent boat, use a good fishing rod, and bring lots of beer"), rather than telling you about how to fish BETTER: ("When you're baiting your hook, use live bait for ___ fish, and casting distance should vary proportionally with...." [i'm really not much of a fisherman])
In other words, there was a lot of "why" answers but not a lot of "how" answers, and so I felt a bit disappointed.
Steve Krug's book "Don't Make Me Think" is both current AND extremely helpful -- if you are looking for a book on Web Usability, I highly recommend that.
If you're looking for one specifically about HOW to improve the UI of your software... well, let me know if you find one, because I'm still looking too.
First of all, you can get the majority of the book online at the author's Web site. I highly recommend checking that out before you plunk down the cash for this book. Second, all this author did was take a smattering of ideas that have been promulgated in other books and on the Web and distilled it down to a few simple particulars per chapter. (You can find a lot of his thoughts echoed from the UseIt Web site by Jakob Nielsen as well as the Interface Hall of Shame. He also takes some ideas directly from Donald Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things." Finally, a lot of this can be found on the AskTog Web site.) You might think that would be a good thing. Perhaps in some ways it would. The problem is that only a smattering of that information is culled and thus a lot of the meat is missing.
The author also makes some statements throughout the book that contradict or are not provided with good reference information so as to determine validity. Example:
"In fact, users don't read anything."
In the very next sentence, however, he says that "when you do usability tests, ... there are quite a few users who simply do not read words." So now it is not all users (as the first statement implies), just a few. The bigger complaint within this, however, is that the author does not state what these "usability tests" are. He also does not cite any major usability studies at all. In fact, those who have studied usability realize that the above statement about "users don't read anything" applies to a certain subset of users in a certain subset of usability tests. You would not know that from reading this book.
The accessibility coverage is also very poor. Accessibility interfaces are now law in the United States (since the start of 2001) and yet this very important topic is given short shrift. Also, the author does not make clear one of the biggest topics for usability and accessibility design: the distinction between programs between intuitive and intuitable. Finally, the author rarely provides the basis for the facts he states. It is fine to talk about "affordances" and "metaphors" but if you do not explain the rationale behind such things (or what studies indicate that these things work), you are doing your readers a disservice.
I much more recommend a book like "GUI Bloopers" for those who want a good read by an informted individual on this subject who is not just copying others. For those programmers who really want to learn about usability and the principles behind it, I recommend "Software for Use" or the "Usability Engineering Lifecycle." (Please note: those last two books are more geared to a Quality Assurance role, but are probably some of the most informative out there.) I would also more recommend the books by Alan Cooper (which are more theoretical but also more applicable in some cases).
Overall, I think this book was written for the programmer who does not have a lot of time to get through a larger book. Perhaps that makes sense to some. For me, it does not. Usability and accessibility are very important in the modern world, particularly in relation to the Web or with Web-based applications where the user is much more likely to give up on a piece of software than they would be if they just spent money on a software package. Thus, this is not a subject that you should expect to understand in this small montage of information.
I recommend reading the book at his Web site to determine if you want to buy the full book. If you do use this as a starter book (basically usability-with-training-wheels) then I urge you to consider other books on the same subject (some of which I have mentioned in this review) to get more informed on the subject. I also recommend checking out some of the online material that is quite abundant and where it seems most of this author's work derived from.
Joel's irreverent, tell-it-like-it-is, approach is part of the charm of this book. For example, chapter 10 is titled, "People Can't Control the Mouse" and chapter 13 is titled, "Those Pesky Usability Tests". From my years of software development in the games industry, many of his points on UI design hit home in a big way. I was actually shocked at how applicable the entire book was to game development. As a professional programmer, I felt the book was talking my language and completely in agreement with my own experiences.
The truth is that there are so many boring and questionable technical books out there, it's refreshing to read something that is so honest and dead-on right.
Mr. Spolsky makes the book lots of fun to read by including entertaining, yet educational, anecdotes. The book is a bathroom-read... buy it an read a chapter or two in letrine. :)
The book was ok, but I was expecting more substance.
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