Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Designed For Use Review

I've been anticipating the release of Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web for a while now. I was a little disappointed that it was delayed by almost a week from its original release date. Nevertheless, I bought it and finished it right away.

Lukas Mathis breaks the design process into three distinct parts: research, design, and implementation. Each category is subdivided into smaller steps classified as either idea-based or skill-based. The progression is logical, but also is written in a way that steps can be skipped or read out of order according to the needs of the product.

When I first saw the book, I expected a focus strictly on what Mathis terms the "design phase" (Part 2 of 3). Design to me, before reading this book, meant wireframes, prototypes, and usability testing. The book gives much more. Mathis shows that the design process extends throughout the entire development cycle.

Designed for Use includes countless links to other resources. Mathis cites many prominent UX and Design blogs, books, videos, etc. Most are web based, so they are freely and widely available.

Many great techniques are suggested that I never thought of as part of "design." Mathis includes mock press releases, job shadowing, and feature sorting. Not only does he teach several techniques, but he also gives low-budget suggestions. He removes any excuse for not following certain steps such as usability testing.

Overall the book seems to have a bias towards desktop and web applications. There are several references to developing mobile applications, but there are few resources mentioned. I was expecting to see services such as Flurry and TestFlight included in the sections on user feedback and testing. Nevertheless, the ideas and techniques still apply.

In general product development I often see two areas that lack: design and documentation. Mathis hits on both topics. Every step of the design process is covered succinctly and thoroughly making it quick and easy to read yet includes many references for further indulgence. I would highly recommend this book to both young and experienced developers. Designed for Use can be purchased here on pragprog.com.