Book Review: Designing For the Digital Age

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Kim Goodwin distills over a decade’s worth of experience at the design studio Cooper into her debut book Designing for the Digital Age. The result is a 700+ page guide to experience design. It’s filled with examples and commentary ranging from customer interviews to widget mockups, but is it also good?

Though she doesn’t say it, this book could have been called “The Cooper Studio Guide to Experience Design”. (As it turns out, the companion website for the book redirects to the Cooper website)  This is reflected in Goodwin writing at length about techniques unique to Cooper such as Goal-Directed Design, having interaction design generators (IxDG) and synthesisers (IXDS), and of course personas (admittedly these are now mainstream, if debated). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as many of these techniques deserve recognition: her explanation that design synthesisers are useful to help resolve and communicate design concepts is one that designers would do well to take on board. However, if you’re expecting to find out about other books and online resources you’ll be very disappointed as there are next to none. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large book without a bibliography.)

Design Language

Standout for me was Goodwin’s chapters on design language. Using the examples of an office phone and then a web data management app,  Goodwin shows how brand attributes such as “exeptional”, “approachable” and “mature” can be used to create subtly different aesthetics. Given that the biggest impediment for many designers starting out is being able to communicate how their concepts are relevant to their needs, these chapters are a must read.

Goodwin also puts in some useful tips on relevant areas such as presenting (making up slides) and graphic design (grids, grids, grids). Again, pointers to leading practitioners in the field (e.g. Nancy Duarte, Edward Tufte) might have been appreciated.

Bad Navigation

My main complaint with this book was that it was difficult to navigate. Much of the book is set up in multiple columns and large text, so that sections may run over several pages. This is compounded by example text often being near-indistinguishable from the body text and again running over several pages. I would love to see a reformatted version of this book (maybe with less text) as I feel it would do better justice to the content and make it easier to use.

The verdict: a comprehensive and well documented breakdown of experience design techniques as used by Cooper, with standout chapters on design language. You’ll need your post-it notes as this 700+ page book could be better formatted, and it won’t give you any other information leads. But otherwise a recommended reference especially for those interested in general interface (rather than web) design.

Book details
Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services
author: Kim Goodwin
published: Wiley, 2009
details: 739 pages, softcover

Vicky Teinaki

An England-based Kiwi, Vicky is doing a PhD at Northumbria University into how designers can better talk about touch and products. When not researching or keeping Johnny Holland running, she does the odd bit of web development, pretends her TV licence money goes only to Steven Moffatt shows, and tweets prolifically about all of the above as @vickytnz.

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