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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
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.

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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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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of my life made simple March 8 2003
By A Customer
As an IT project manager for a Fortune 500 company supporting online programs and projects, as well as web sites and applications, this book summarizes a day in my life. Not just a must-read, but a godsend for both application developers and UI designers -- two groups who traditionally don't always see eye-to-eye. Can't we all just get along? Yes! This book tells you how, using simple, easy-to-understand language and real-life examples. End users and customers will thank you for reading it.
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By A Customer
I highly recommend this book as an invaluable resource for anyone currently in, or looking to enter, the instructional design field. The authors have successfully been able to present information, which can often be dry and complex, in a clear and easy to read format.
I have a read many books in this area and they have been a fantastic cure for insomnia. This on the other hand is a compelling read from start to finish. Many of the concepts presented will not be foreign to people that work in this field or in the area of product development. However the logical order and detailed examples work brilliantly to drive home the principles.
Publishers in this area should use this book as a bench mark for design and layout for its susinct and logical passage. Thank you very much Ellen and Allan for such a useful tool!
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars All web and product designers should read this Feb. 4 2002
By XiMiX
This book has many examples of good and bad web pages and also consumer products. What it covers is seemingly obvious, but apparently not realized by many. It shows how users and designers can work together for optimal result. It should be a required reading for anyone doing user-interface designs. It is good that they actually have a good free product, HUBBUB ... .that was created using this design philosophy.
I didn't give it a 5-star only because, to me, the section of their HUBBUB experience and the conclusion was too long and could have been made more concise. Also, it was disappointing to see their product not following their own design goals well enough, which seemed to make the book less effective.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Changing Standard Practice? Jan. 24 2002
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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