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Designing from Both Sides of the Screen: How Designers and Engineers Can Collaborate to Build Cooperative Technology [Paperback]

Ellen Isaacs , Alan Walendowski
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 10 2001
0672321513.ld
Design and build better software by understanding the motivations of your collaborators.
Illustrates in a step-by-step manner the design processes and presents a practical, hands-on approach to the real world process of designing a user interface (UI).
Offers clear principles and a proven design philosophy, which are easily incorporated into diverse design problems.
Includes a metric to measure how well a design is enabling "flow", a concept described in the book. This book not only offers a sound and proven philosophy for designing and building software, it explores the dialog between designer and software engineer, and offers insights which when applied will facilitate a higher degree of collaboration between them. With a minimal understanding of the values and motivations of one another, these people are often team members standing in adversarial relation to each other. The authors provide background, model effective thought processes and dialogs, and give the readers clear, concrete principles and examples for design considerations. This book is written for both software engineers and designers and illustrates a process which they can use to dramatically increase the quality of both product and process.
Ellen Isaacs has been designing software user interfaces for over 11 years at such companies as Sun Microsystems, Excite@Home, AT&T and Electric Communities (now communities.com). She has designed applications for a variety of platforms including Windows, OpenWindows, the Web, and Palm OS.
Alan Walendowski has been a software engineer working in the trenches for over 15 years. He has worked for companies such as Sun Microsystems, 3DFX, AT&T, IBM, and ComputerVision. Walendowski has worked on device drivers, graphics engines, systems software, distributed systems, client-server systems, and user interfaces.
0672321513

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Designing from Both Sides of the Screen: How Designers and Engineers Can Collaborate to Build Cooperative Technology is a must-have book for anyone developing user interfaces (UI). The authors define a seemingly simple goal, the Cooperative Principle for Technology: "Those who are designing, building, or managing the development of technology should teach their products to follow the same basic rules of cooperation that people use with each other."

In the first section, they show lots of good and bad UI examples from different devices (PC, PDA, photocopier, even a dashboard). Bad examples include confusing pop-ups, crowded menus and hilarious error messages like this one from Yahoo! Messenger: "You are not currently connected. Please click on Login and then Login to login again."

The book gives succinct design principles like, "Treat Clicks as Sacred". A violation of this would be those dreaded "Do you really mean it" pop-ups. Using a butler as an analogy, they point out that he’d soon be out of a job if he questioned, "Madam, are you sure you want me to answer the door?" A Design Guideline says, "If you have an Undo feature, there is no need to break the users’ flow to ask them whether they really want the program to do what they just asked it to do." Design Guidelines like this appear in the margins throughout the book for easy reference and are gathered in a handy appendix summary.

The second section goes into detail on the creation of the authors’ own project, Hubbub, a multi-device instant messaging application. Whenever a step in the process reflects the application of a design principle, there’s a purple callout in the text. Thus the book itself is an example of a cooperative UI that helps readers keep ideas organised as they read along.

Even if you’re not developing user interfaces, you’ll enjoy this book. There are many moments of recognition when you see just how flawed your favourite, or most hated, everyday application/operating system/Web site is, and how easily it could have been improved. And you may even find the principles of Cooperative Technology informing non-technological areas of your life. The authors make politeness and the anticipation of the needs of others seem logical, feasible and elegant. --Angelynn Grant

From the Back Cover

Written from the perspectives of both a user interface designer and a software engineer, this book demonstrates rather than just describes how to build technology that cooperates with people. It begins with a set of interaction design principles that apply to a broad range of technology, illustrating with examples from the Web, desktop software, cell phones, PDAs, cameras, voice menus, interactive TV, and more. It goes on to show how these principles are applied in practice during the development process -- when the ideal design can conflict with other engineering goals.

The authors demonstrate how their team built a full-featured instant messenger application for the wireless Palm and PC. Through this realistic example, they describe the many subtle tradeoffs that arise between design and engineering goals. Through simulated conversations, they show how they came to understand each other's goals and constraints and found solutions that addressed both of their needs -- and ultimately the needs of users who just want their technology to work.


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Customer Reviews

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4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
First let me tell you this is an interaction design (or user interface design) book, since the title of the book doesn't do this job well.
This is one of the books that have great impact on me. I agree with the review written by Kevin Mullet (printed on the book's back cover) that the ideas presented in this book are a bit "dangerous". It is dangerous because they are not the common practice yet. If people want to follow these ideas, they need to have changes. Changes are always dangerous to many people.
Those "dangerous" ideas include:
- Build fewer features but build them well. (The current practice is to build as many features as possible so that marketers can list those features for promotion. Is a product easy to use? Everyone can claim that since there are no criteria for such a claim.)
- User interface design should drive the system architecture, not the other way around. (Modifying system architecture is always hard. If we want to support a certain interaction afterwards, the architecture will probably can't support cleanly, if at all.)
- Technology should be used for user needs, but not for technology's own sake. (Visual design should also be treated the same.)

Last but not least, this book shows that user interface design is actually science but not art. We don't need a graphic design degree to be an interaction designer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Changing Standard Practice? Jan. 24 2002
Format:Paperback
I'm not an expert in either Interface Design or Programming Methodology, and I've only read a little bit in these areas. As I read this book, I found myself thinking: "You mean this approach isn't standard practice already?"
After reading Ellen and Alan's description of how a UI Designer and a Developer should interact with each other, it just seems so obvious that everyone should work this way. User needs should affect architecture, and technology constrains design--how hard can it be to understand that? But the implications--design and development are iterative, and ongoing user testing is critical to the iterative process--could change the way some people think about programming projects. (The old Specify, Design, Program, Test, Release process seems somewhat naive in retrospect.)
The book has a kind of fun and lively feel to it. It's clear that the authors were having fun telling their various stories, and were excited about illustrating their points. The writing is casual, which made it amazingly easy to read.
On the other hand, once the informal style sold me on the overall approach, I almost immediately wanted a more rigorous treatment. I'd have loved an Appendix that summarized the formats of the various documents, for instance, and perhaps one that reviews the process flow diagram used at the beginning of the later chapters. (As a former academic, I found myself wondering as well about the independence and completeness of the Design Guidelines, too, but that's my quirk. It's probably not an issue most readers would care about.)
I think this book could become one of those that inspires a sort of religious commitment to its vision, and that that would probably be a very good thing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Example Jan. 3 2002
By calmly
Format:Paperback
Ever wonder why, if books are almost always read by just one reader at a time, when reading a technical book you feel as if you're in a lecture hall with a distant expert addressing hundreds of students?
There's an extra intimacy that's created when an expert is confident enough to address the student as a peer. Ellen Isaacs and Alan Walendowski draw the reader in as an active participant using a superb extended example and a friendly conversational style. It's like the Socratic method but with Socrates as a peer. Two Socrates!
Using an example of an instant messenger that extends over two-thirds of the book, Ellen and Alan not only share their knowledge about usability but also about a real-world software development process. Rather than dictate this, they share their own thoughts as they repeatedly rework their product based on their own concerns and user feedback. It feels as if you joined their small development team and were privy to each obstacle they encountered in a highly iterative path.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Your will is my command. --Jeeves Dec 29 2001
Format:Paperback
I have been a software engineer for over a decade. In all that time, one of my least favorite engineering activities has been GUI design and programming. Part of the problem for me has always been the disconnect between what the UI designer or customer envisions and what the programmer can realistically deliver. This book can help tremendously in bridging that gap.
It is written by a UI Designer and a Software Engineer, and takes into account both of their viewpoints. After an initial introductory section to the basic concepts of good UI design, which is very thorough, as any butler should be (read the book to understand), the authors then relate a real-world example in which they collaborated on the design and implementation of a real product. Along the way, they provide some excellent ideas and techniques for how to go about producing a user-friendly user interface that won't take 5 major releases to get right. The product, an Instant Messaging application called Hubbub, is real and can be downloaded for free and installed on any Windows machine or Palm OS handheld. Although not as mature as other IM's out there, it is eminently usable and has some nifty UI features that the current crop don't offer. But it's not necessary to be a Hubbub user to read the book. It's just a nice side benefit for those who would like to give it a whirl.
In keeping with their overall ideas about good UI design, the book is very well organized, easy to read, and has several nice "GUI" features itself. You can tell that the authors themselves probably had a hand in how the book was put together. It is not overly long (about 300 pages), so it doesn't take several weeks to read. Nor is it written in a typical "computer textbook" style.
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