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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Web Usability Books [4]

Today I am continuing my review of Web Usability books, from the perspective (described here) of someone who believes that Performance Matters:

4. Usability for the Web by Tom Brinck, Darren Gergle, and Scott D. Wood

Usability for the Web (book cover) Subtitled Designing Web Sites That Work, this book is about managing the design process, with the term design being used in its widest sense. In the introduction, the authors define Usability as the product of several design goals: functionally correct, efficient to use, easy to learn, easy to remember, error tolerant, and subjectively pleasing.

I particularly like the emphasis on the process of producing and maintaining a Web site. While The Design of Sites contains an introductory chapter summarizing the steps of the development process, here those steps are used as the central organizing principle for the book. On his own site, lead author Tom Brinck explains why:
Darren, Scott, and I were all involved in the genesis of Diamond Bullet Design, a web design company founded in 1996 with the goal of bringing usability to the web, and together we worked out how a web design and development process should reflect usability at every stage, while making this a feasible process within the business constraints of actual development.
The book's introduction continues:
To ensure high usability on our own Web projects, we defined a development process that incorporates proven techniques from software and usability engineering, graphic design, project management, and other disciplines. The process had to be practical and lean. It had to allow us to work on multiple projects of varying sizes with fixed budgets. It had to help us keep track of the details that can kill usability and destroy profitability. This book is about that process.
Tom's site provides some more detail:
Usability for the Web provides a comprehensive approach to the web design process, with a devotion to the principles of usability. The book is intended for web professionals and students of web design, with a practical focus.

The book is organized into 6 sections, according to the activities of the design process: Requirements Analysis, Conceptual Design, Mockups and Prototypes, Production, Launch, and Evaluation. We view Evaluation as an ongoing activity throughout the process, which is integrated at every step. Detailed chapters cover topics such as defining the target audience and target platform, user needs analysis, task analysis, information architecture, visual design, writing, software development incorporating usability, quality assurance, user testing, and usability inspection.

Numerous forms and checklists are included that are straightforward to apply in real-world design situations. These forms are designed to create a reliable, complete, and repeatable design methodology.
The publisher, Morgan Kaufmann, lists the target readership for this book as Web site designers and developers, Web site project managers, usability specialists and information architects, user interface designers, and graphic designers. While any of these readers may want yet more detail about their specialty, this book does provide almost 500 pages of carefully selected, well organized, well written, and attractively presented material. Indeed, the book itself is a fine testament to the integrity of Tom Brinck's stated Usability Philosophy.

Finally, for those interested in Performance Matters, the authors devote a full chapter to Usability in Software Development. This includes a statement about the crucial importance of Response Time, a short discussion of what contributes to it, and a sidebar on Why Software Engineers are Critical for Usability.

Granted, one 24-page chapter cannot cover the subject of performance properly. But this is the only book on usability I have ever seen that explains 3-Tiered Architectures, and how to map the flow of control and data through those tiers using static design diagrams and dynamic request traces. And its discussion of latency diagrams highlights the need for a systematic way of analyzing where the time goes, like the one I wrote about in an earlier post on The Web Site Response Time Model.

After reading the story of Tom Brinck's diverse background (Apple, Stanford MS in Computer Science, Toshiba, Bellcore, Michigan MA in Psychology, founder of Diamond Bullet Design), it is easy to understand why his ideas about usability and his book are so balanced and well rounded.

Thoroughly recommended!

[Next book review: Speed Up Your Site ...]


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