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Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself Paperback – May, 2002
All Books, All the Time
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From the Publisher
This book is for anyone wanting to gain an understanding of how to design and inplement usable web sites.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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I found "Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself" to be very uniteresting. The author's are constantly comparing themselves to Neilsen and tearing his books down. While I agree with the authors that there is no "one size fits all" approach to designing on the web and that different things work for different sites, Nielsen does as well. It seems to me that the authors should have worked on providing more useful content and a better layout (the book is laid out very poorly) than trying to bring Nielsen's views down.
I highly suggest that you don't purchase this book, but if you have money to throw away, send me an email, I have some real estate in Flordia I want to sell you too.
The book consists of a pragmatic introduction "beyond the buzz: the true meaning of usability" by Molly Holzschlag followed by the six 'tales from the design face'. Each chapter starts with a slightly cheesy, yet endearing question and answer session where the author(s) are asked to comment on items ranging from their favourite pizza, to their rating on a 'geek index'. I found this one page intro helped me to view the authors as human beings, rather than as 'subjects'. At the end of each chapter the authors are given the opportunity to give photographic examples of items that they personally rate as being 'usable'..
The sites covered range from large companies like the BBC and Economist through to community sites like Metafilter and Evolt.org. Also included are chapters on 'e-bay' with tens of millions of users, and the one man SynFonts site.
Each of the tales are compelling and you want to keep reading to see what happens next. The authors concentrate on why they did things, rather than how they did them, so you won't be getting tips on implementing navigation schemes in PHP or ASP. But you will find out why eBay merged their design and usability groups into one, why Flash was the right solution for SynFonts and why both evolt and MetaFilter decided that un-threaded comments were the way to go.
The publishers have put a lot of effort into every detail of this book. The layout enhances the readability of the book, and the screenshots have been carefully chosen to reinforce the text rather than act as page candy. If I had to pick one element that illustrates this attention to detail, it would be the index. Bill Johncocks has done an excellent job in producing an index that adds real value to the book. I wish more publishers would follow this example and employ professional indexers.
stories rather than other people savaging sites for usability crimes.
One of best things about this book, though, is the design and the tone. Its an easy read, like Steve Krug's book, and has very different styles of writing depending on which designer is talking. There's a team of people from the BBC talking about their sites and you get a real sense of a design team at work; the Economist is a serious site and the tone of the designer/ author is formal and serious; SynFonts is a flash site and the designer is not afraid to criticise his own site in far more lacerating terms than outsiders would, but evangelises the use of Flash in his circumstances while giving some excellent generic tips on Flash Usability: Don't restrict the viewing sizes of your movie; avoid hidden/rollover navigation; don't use Flash for navigation; test! test! test!
From the specific experiences, generic hints are drawn out, but they are never rules or guidelines. The book's central premise is that the web designer should know the audience, get feedback from them, use the server logs and design according to the user's needs and expectations.
There's also a gallery of real-world objects that each designer has chosen as examples of great design and usability. I liked this as it showed that web Usability is not an esoteric science and is applicable to more and more non-technical people who use the web just as they use a coffee-pot, can opener or iMac. It also gave an insight into the personalities of the sites' designers - althought I would argue that an etch-a-sketch is usable, but would certainly agree that disposable diapers are "worth their weight in gold" as the eBay designer stated!
This is a well-researched, well-presented and non-didactic book. Thoroughly recommended.