UX Book Reviews: May 2010

Book Reviews

Johnny's reviews of great UX books.

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In this round-up of book reviews we are trying to broaden your perspective a little bit. We review the typical UX books, like ‘Beyond the Usability Lab’ and ‘User Experience Re-Mastered’, but we also try to get inspiration from ‘Innovators’ and ‘Layout Essentials’.

Beyond the Usability Lab


Type: theory
Authors: Bill Albert, Donna Tedesco, Thomas Tullis
Publishers: Morgan Kaufman
ISBN: 978-0123748928
Details: 328 pages, paperback

When you are new to the business and need a hands-on tour through the UX process.

Online usability testing seems to have become ‘the new kid on the block’. In the last few months we’ve received four books from different publishers that all covered this topic. Is it really a topic so complex that it needs several books explaining you how to do it?

Of course you can start directly with online usability testing, gathering valuable information about your users and product. There are enough easy tools to help you along the way (e.g. Loop 11 and Usabilla). But this book does provide some valuable background and guidelines to help you get the best out of your usability tests. It is a very complete guide, containing a lot of valuable information, even more basic information and probably a bunch of information that will never be useful for you.

The book is very clearly written and provides a lot of examples.

Here is an overview of the topics

  • An introduction to online usability testing
  • Planning the study
  • Designing the study
  • Piloting and launching the study
  • Data preparation
  • Data analysis and presentation
  • Building your online study using commercial tools
  • Discount approaches to building an online study
  • Case studies
  • Ten Keys To Success

User Experience Re-Mastered


Type: theory
Authors: Chauncey Wilson (editor)
Publishers: Morgan Kaufman
ISBN: 0123751144
Details: 396 pages, paperback

When you are new to the business and need a hands-on tour through the UX process.

In the last few years loads of real specialized UX books have been released. All of them contain hundreds of pages focusing on one specific subject, ranging from sketching to creating personas. For most designers these books contain too much information. For them ‘User Experience Re-mastered’ might be a great alternative. This book gives an overview of the design process, including practical examples. But it doesn’t do this by rewriting what has already been said in other books; it is a collection of chapters from existing books. I really like this approach, because there is already so much great stuff around… why do it again?

The content of the book is great for students and people who are new to the field, but there isn’t much new under the sun. One disadvantage of re-using chapters from exisiting books is that some examples and images do seem to be a bit old. There are even some pictures that are bad quality, which is a shame. But don’t let this scare you away, there are still some really interesting chapters such as ‘User Needs Analysis’, ‘Persona Conception and Gestation’ and Bill Buxton’s ‘Sketching: A Key to Good Design’.

Innovators: Shaping Our Creative Future


Type: inspiration
Authors: multiple
Publishers: BIS Publishers
ISBN: 978-94-9022-801-9
Details: 408 pages, hard cover

Be inspired by the innovators that are shaping our future.

There were high expectations when we received a copy of this book; it isn’t every day that a book tries to give an overview of the innovators of our creative future. Did it succeed? The fact that multiple friends already ordered their own copy might give an answer to that.

The idea behind the book was to let “international experts from twelve fields of creative practice, from fine art and photography to graphic design, architecture and ecology [...] each select five people who are making significant contributions to the way we experience life and visual culture.” This resulted in a beautiful book with 60 innovators and their work. Each innovator is introduced by a short text with a lot of graphic. The book screams to be looked.

While paging through this book you can enjoy many brilliant ideas. It is a nice way to get energy for your own projects. I personally liked the broadness of the fields, simply because the most unexpected fields seem to inspire me. My personal favorite innovators in the book were web artist Yogo Nakamura, rock band Radiohead and designer Viktor & Rolf. What are yours?

Layout Essentials: 100 Design Principles For Using Grids


Type: practical
Authors: Beth Tondreau
Publishers: BIS Publishers
ISBN: 978-90-6369-211-7
Details: 208 pages, hard cover

Learn to follow the rules and you’ll be able to gain more creative freedom.

As designers we are always struggling to create unique but perfect designs. It takes some time for us to acknowledge that behind each brilliant design isn’t just our bright mind, but also a world of existing rules. Among these rules the one about applying good grids must be one of the most important ones. Almost all good design around you uses a specific grid. Understanding the power of grids can help you become a much better designer, and that’s exactly where this book tries to come in. At it’s core the book tries to focus on graphic designers, but I believe that also interaction designers could benefit greatly from this knowledge. When we understand the power of grids we can understand why certain sources of information (websites, UI, …) are more succesfull than others.

At the start of the book she shortly introduces the vocabulary for grids (columns, modules, margins, modular, multicolumn, ..), but right after that she jumps into the 100 examples. The book itself is beautifully made and the full color plates are really inspiring. Each example shows you the helpfulness of grids without having to lose graphical power and freedom. I really liked this practical approach of showing examples with a bit of theory., but I can imagine that a lot of people like to have more background information before they start applying the grids. So if you love theory: don’t buy this book. If you love the more practical approach: get it.

PS: if you want to directly start using grids for websites, go to the 960 Grid System site.

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Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

5 comments on this article

  1. Nice one! Thanks Johnny! :)

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  5. basekit on

    Thank you for reviewing these books. Good UX is crucial to running a successful website!