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Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules [Paperback]

Jeff Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 20 2010 012375030X 978-0123750303 1

Early user interface (UI) practitioners were trained in cognitive psychology, from which UI design rules were based. But as the field evolves, designers enter the field from many disciplines. Practitioners today have enough experience in UI design that they have been exposed to design rules, but it is essential that they understand the psychology behind the rules in order to effectively apply them. In Designing with the Mind in Mind, Jeff Johnson, author of the best selling GUI Bloopers, provides designers with just enough background in perceptual and cognitive psychology that UI design guidelines make intuitive sense rather than being just a list of rules to follow.



* The first practical, all-in-one source for practitioners on user interface design rules and why, when and how to apply them.
* Provides just enough background into the reasoning behind interface design rules that practitioners can make informed decisions in every project.
* Gives practitioners the insight they need to make educated design decisions when confronted with tradeoffs, including competing design rules, time constrictions, or limited resources.

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Review

"Take fundamental principles of psychology. Illustrate. Combine with Fundamental Principles of Design. Stir gently until fully blended.  Read daily until finished. Caution: The mixture is addictive."-- Don Norman, Nielsen Norman group, Author of Design of Future Things.

"This book is a primer to understand the why of the larger human action principles at work-a sort of cognitive science for designers in a hurry. Above all, this is a book of profound insight into the human mind for practical people who want to get something done."-- Stuart Card, Senior Research Fellow and the manager of the User Interface Research group at the Palo Alto Research Centerfrom the foreword

"If you want to know why design rules work, Jeff Johnson provides fresh insight into the psychological rational for user-interface design rules that pervade discussions in the world of software product and service development."--Aaron Marcus, President, Aaron Marcus and Associates, Inc.

"As anyone who has taken a course in human-computer interaction (HCI) will attest, cognitive science textbooks tend towards the drier end of the literary spectrum. The achievement of this book in making the material easily accessible is therefore nothing short of magnificent. It discusses the relevant scientific findings without any lack of scholarship, but always with an eye to how those findings can be put to practical use."--BCS, British Computer Society Online, November 2010

"Anyone who has a hand in developing software applications that people interact with should read this book. That includes those who build data visualization applications, such as custom analytical applications and performance monitoring dashboards. Computer technologies that are supposed to help people think will only work if they're designed to interact hand in glove with human perception and cognition. This book distills the most important insights we've learned about how the human brain functions for the purpose of human-computer interaction, explains them simply, clearly, entertainingly, and in practical terms, then goes on to teach design principles that should be followed to build systems that people can interact with productively and enjoyably."--Perceptual Edge blog

From the Back Cover

Early user interface (UI) practitioners were trained in cognitive psychology, from which UI design rules were based. But as the field evolves, designers enter the field from many disciplines. Practitioners today have enough experience in UI design that they have been exposed to design rules, but it is essential that they understand the psychology behind the rules in order to effectively apply them. InDesigning with the Mind in Mind, Jeff Johnson, author of the best sellingGUI Bloopers, provides designers with just enough background in perceptual and cognitive psychology that UI design guidelines make intuitive sense rather than being just a list of rules to follow.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource June 23 2011
Format:Paperback
This is not a cookbook. It won't tell you "the best" way to implement a date picker, how or create search fields or what your save model should look like. Instead, this book explains the theoretical grounding of important design principles.

The writing style is approachable without being overly familiar. I'd recommend to designers from a technical background who want to better appreciate the psychology of interface design.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  80 reviews
72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appreciate well-designed interfaces, and understand why some interfaces don't work Sept. 23 2010
By kfinn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Designing with the Mind in Mind occupies a unique position in design literature, being neither a compendium of rules (do this, don't do that), nor a deeply detailed treatment of cognitive psychology. Instead, it offers accessible explanations of how the human brain affects our perceptions and behaviors, and then shows how these descriptions serve as the motivation for basic design principles.

Jeff Johnson's earlier books are more comprehensive on the design side (GUI Bloopers 2.0; Web Bloopers), but the present volume offers the reader deeper insight into the implications of a more modest sub-set of design principles. He uses bite-sized chapters and clear language to provide the psychological and biological background, often including fascinating research results. The examples he uses to illustrate his points are both compelling and accessible. (And politically correct: both Apple and Microsoft get some thumbs-down ratings.) The sections where he translates psychological observations into "computer jargon" are useful for engineers.

The droll headings and examples keep things lively. "Reading Is Unnatural;" "Our Attention Is Limited; Our Memory Is Imperfect": this sums up how I feel sometimes. I learned that the gap between what a user wants and what a user gets is called the "gulf of execution." And the usability test participant's comment, "I'm in a hurry, so I'll do it the long way." is priceless, as is the explanation: "Avoiding thought when using computers is important." (The participant suspected there might be a faster way to perform a task, but didn't want to take the time and effort to figure it out.)

Readers who implement user interfaces but don't have a background in cognitive psychology, or who have that background but might not know how to apply it to the world of user interface design, will get a lot out of this volume. Those who exist with one foot in each world will also enjoy it.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at psychological principles behind effective visual display design ! Oct. 14 2010
By R. Neil Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Developed from a course titled "Human-Computer Interaction" that he taught at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, Dr. Jeff Johnson -- who holds degrees from Yale and Stanford, experience at Xerox and author of the book, "GUI Bloopers" -- offers contextual explanations as to how we visualize and categorize information, data and images in such a manner that engineers and programmers can design user interfaces in the most effective manner. It's a well-written, insightful and very practical guide that will be of interest to anyone interested in the how-and-why of computer/machine interface design.

Topics covered include:

How our visual perceptions are biased by experience, the current context, and user's intentions/goals;

How our vision is optimized to see structure; Gestalt principles of proximity, continuity, closure, symmetry, figure/ground separation and then how they are combined;

How structure enhances people's ability to scan long numbers; how visual hierarchy enables readers to focus on the most relevant information;

A discussion of psychological theory that indicates than we're "wired for language, but not for reading" and the design implications of these findings;

Limitations of our color vision and implications for how color is presented in user interfaces; the fact that user's peripheral vision is poor and common methods used to makes messages more visible (e.g. pop-ups, sound, and flash/motion);

Design implications regarding our limited short term and long term memory; how recognition and learning from experience for readers is typically easy while problem solving and recall is hard;

And, a discussion of time requirements for systems designers to consider.

Written in an easy-to-understand narrative, lecture-format with dozens of illustrations in each chapter, readers will find this book to be a delightful and welcome primer detailing the fundamental psychological principles behind effective design rules.

Highly recommended for college and university library collections as well as graphic designers and psychologists interested in human/machine interface design.

R. Neil Scott
Middle Tennessee State University
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars designing software products that mesh with the user's mind Sept. 1 2010
By D. Bullock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This concise book by J. Johnson is filled with practical guidelines and rules of thumb for would-be designers of software-intensive, multi-function tools. Such e-tools' success requires an interface that creates direct, low-friction paths from the goals of the tool-user to the goal-promoting operations made possible by the tool, whether it be a word processor, a smartphone, or an MP3 player.

Whenever one specifies a guideline or rule of thumb, or announces a policy that is about to be adopted and enforced, it is wise to explain the reasoning behind it, even if one has the power to enforce its adoption. Detailing the reasons, in tandem with examples of good and bad practice, makes the rule more memorable, and more likely to be reconstructed by someone trying to recall what the rule is. The reasoning, if valid, will also undercut the natural tendency to ignore or actively subvert rules that appear arbitrary, with no better basis than the whim of some over-controlling personality.

An incredible thing about "Designing with the mind in mind" is that most of its guidelines are ultimately easy to remember and, equally important, "easy to swallow", that is, made as palatable as possible by the reasons and examples provided. Because the basis for each guideline is so well explained, the guidelines all make intuitive sense.

The reasons provided for the design guidelines are primarily drawn from cognitive psychology, and secondarily from neuroscience. Therefore, the title appropriately reads "with the mind in mind" and not "with the brain in mind". In a compact book (around 200 pages) that can be read in two sessions, it would have been a mistake to try to ground all the guidelines in neural constraints. Far better is the strategy followed by Johnson, who roots the guidelines in "hard" cognitive psychological constraints that, in turn, one could explain in terms of brain circuitry -- but only if given a budget of another 200 pages. In a few cases, Johnson does sketch neural explanations, in order to exemplify how each mental constraint could be related to a handful of pertinent neural constraints. But, just as one of his interface design principles is to avoid forcing the user to learn geek-speak that is irrelevant to the user's goals, Johnson makes no attempt to give more than short glimpses of the arcane objects and vocabularies found in modern neuroscience.

Another welcome aspect of the book is the way that each chapter builds on the main themes of earlier chapters. For that reason, but also for the overarching perspectives they offer, the last two chapters are the best. One explains how design can maximize the ease with which users explore and learn to deploy the full range of nifty functions made possible by a software-intensive, multi-function tool. The other explains how the time scales of tool operations (such as feedback that a mouse click has been received) must mesh with the time scales of the mind's operations. Poor temporal meshing between these two contributors to the person-machine "conversation" (Johnson's apt term) leads to many gratuitous frustrations and annoyances, which will drive users to abandon the offending product X in favor of a product Y that meshes better with the time scales of mental operations. This will happen even if X outperforms Y on many other, "objective", benchmarks.

Many of the topics treated in the book have been treated elsewhere, notably in prior design books by authors familiar with cognitive psychology, but the approach taken here is remarkable for its elegance and conciseness. Anyone in the business of designing a software product that is complex enough to have an associated "learning curve" will find here many good ideas for minimizing the curve's steepness. The book's own learning curve is very gentle, despite the wealth of ideas.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written and Practical For Busy Developers Oct. 20 2010
By frankp93 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"Designing with the Mind in Mind" by Jeff Johnson is geared towards programmers and those directly involved in the creation of software interfaces. But it's neither a coding book, a collection of design recipes, or a style guide based on the author (or a particular corporation)'s idealized UI standards.

If you've ever wondered why some applications just feel easier and more enjoyable to use than others and chalked it up to some UI guru's intuitive grasp of "eye appeal" or "artistic flair", Johnson's book may surprise and reassure you that there is in fact a quantifiable, cognitive basis behind many aspects of why one particular design "just looks and feels better" than another.

Don't expect a heavy dose of psychology here either: The author presents just enough background to keep things interesting and satisfy those who happily never outgrew their "But why?" phase. This is a cleanly written and practical book whose well-chosen examples cover a wide range of applications and system interfaces illustrating just how broadly these ideas can be applied.

If you've never read a book on UI design the concepts covered here are fairly standard to the genre: Gestalt principles of grouping visual information by proximity, similarity, closure, and symmetry are presented with straightforward examples. The chapter on reading text (so prevalent in software interfaces yet quite unnatural to our brains ) and the ramifications of communicating ideas with text is fascinating and alone worth reading the book for. If you've ever created or encountered a "dialog from hell" stuffed to the gills with ill-placed and over-described controls, you'll find this material particularly interesting.

I'd not read previously in a design book the impact our short and longer term memory has (or should have) on the amount, complexity, and sequencing of information presented to users. While Johnson's book is primarily concerned with visual interfaces, memory also strongly influences our perception of sound and music and there are ramifications here for designs incorporating these elements. A terrific book on the subject for those with an interest in music is "Music and Memory" by Bob Snyder (MIT Press).

Johnson rounds out the book with well-illustrated chapters on color perception, theories of learning, our capacity for dealing with complexity and how that influences our experience following various interface narratives. It sounds much heavier than it reads. The author really strikes an effective and readable tone that respects the reader's intelligence while avoiding the use of gratuitous jargon meant to show off his authority on the subject.

At "K&R length", "Designing with the Mind in Mind" is the kind of book I think busy developers will find time for and keep close at hand for reference and inspiration. Even if you're not involved in front-end work for a commercial product, I've found throughout my 20+ plus years in the field there are plenty of opportunities to create UIs for tools, in-house utilities, one-off conversion programs, intranet support pages - you name it. We all use them and we'll use them more often and more effectively if they're designed well.

"Designing with the Mind in Mind" may just leave you looking at the software world (and the non-software world) with a fresh pair of eyes. A Warning though: the folks over in the client group may not be so thrilled when you start complaining about the "counter-Gestalt" flaws in their GUI!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Human Factors Guidelines Jan. 20 2011
By Dave Edmiston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've worked with many HFEs over the years (Human Factors Engineers). Some are good and some are bad. Some are well versed in their trade and can tell you the "why" behind their designs, others rely more on intuition, and some just flounder around and crank out bad designs. The results of bad UI designs is truly horrible applications. I heard a trainer describe a bad product once as "a UI that only a mother could love". As our technology becomes more complex, there's an even greater burden on designers to simplify their designs, so that our tasks will be made less difficult.

Again, this can't be done without *any* design consideration, and it shouldn't be done with only *intuitive* design schemes.

Enter Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules! This book presents a set of tools for designers--a set of rules based on psychological studies. Like any other set of tools or rules, you might not agree 100% with all of the rules, but using a set of rules as your starting point always leads to a higher quality end result.

Whether your role is in HFE or you are the developer writing the code, this book is a great place to begin--before you start your project.
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