Publisher: O'Reilly, 2010
Aimed at: Interface designers
Pros: Attractive and consistent presentation
Cons: No discussion of programmability
Reviewed by: David Conrad
The subtitle of this book "Patterns for Effective Interaction Design" is the key to its content.
Although this is a second edition I hadn't read the original and have reviewed it as a completely new book. For those readers who have used the previous edition it does seem that this book is sufficiently different to merit buying another copy. It has two new chapters - those on social media and mobile design, and it includes lots of new patterns. To make room for the new material some outdated or "blindingly obvious" patterns have been removed and so has the Builders and Editors chapter. In addition material has been reorganised and chapter introductions have been rewritten.
This book presents patterns and Chapter 1 is no exception - but its patterns are distinctly different and are about people's (software users') behaviours. The message of this chapter is that you need to understand your users and their reasons for using software. Four methods of user research are suggested - direct observation, case studies, surveys and personas - a technique that "models" target audiences. The chapter culminates in fourteen behavioural patterns, some of which are cross referenced to interface design patterns that crop up in later chapters.
Then comes a set of chapters that are applicable to any interface you might design - desktop application, web application, website etc. Each chapter has an introduction that sets the scene and covers basic concepts. Then come patterns - and each of these uses the same template: The pattern title is immediately followed with a screen dump illustrating it, then short sections are arranged under the four headings What; Use when; Why; How. Next come some "real world" examples, all with screen dumps and a varying amount of discussion as required.
As this is a book of patterns it is the number and quality of the patterns that matter. In early chapters most of the patterns will be familiar but the context in which they are described may make you view them in a new light. Chapter 2 has the title "Organizing the Content" and introduces the idea of Information Architecture as 'the art of organizing an information space'. There are ten patterns. starting with Feature, Search and Browse and going on to News Stream, Picture Manager and Dashboard, all of them instantly recognisable as ones we come across on a daily basis but Tidwell's chapter introduction lets you think about them in a new way.
Chapter 3: Getting around is on navigation with thirteen patterns for knowing where you are, deciding where you are going and moving between windows/pages and so on. Next Chapter 4: Organising the Page has thirteen patterns for that put in practice the layout concepts discussed in its introduction.
The topic of Chapter 5 is how to display a list of items in an interactive setting with twelve patterns. Because lists crop up so often it makes many forward references to other chapters in particular Chapter 6: Doing Things where menus and buttons are the focus and eleven patterns are presented and Chapter 7: Showing Complex Data which covers Information Graphics. This chapter has a long introductory section and presents eleven very interesting patterns that are of value to anybody who has to communicate information.
Chapter 8:Getting Input from Users looks at forms and control. Its eleven patterns are preceded by a very useful discussion of the principles of form design and the types of controls you have at your disposal.
Now we arrive at the new chapters. Chapter 9: Using Social Media starts with a set of basic principles starting with Listen - given the number zero as Tidwell, correctly in my opinion, considers it so basic. The other principles include Produce Good Stuff and Let Readers decide what is good stuff. The eleven patterns are fairly obvious ones but here again you are prompted to think about them. So it is in Chapter 10: Going Mobile where six challenges of mobile design from tiny screen sizes and variable screen width through to limited attention are discussed before five key points to approaching a mobile design and then eleven mobile-specific patterns.
Chapter 11 has the title "Making It Look Good: Visual Style and Aesthetics and devotes eight pages to designs from the CSS Zen Garden website which presents the same content in a different way - to show how the design affects the user's response. Tidwell goes on to discuss color, typography, spaciousness and crowding, angles and curves, texture and rhythm, images, cultural references and repeated visual motifs. Interestingly she briefly applies this to desktop applications before presenting the patterns, just seven of them, for this final chapter.
A References section, of websites and books, is slipped in before a comprehensive index that adds to the value of this book as a reference.
This is an attractively produced book. It has full colour illustrations including plenty of screen shots and uses consistent layout feature that aid its readability. It also presents lots of useful patterns which while they may be familiar and even obvious are presented in such a way as to make you appreciate them at a new level. There isn't any consideration of the patterns' progarammability, changeability and deep structure - but this is a book for the interface designer rather than the developer. Recommended with this reservation, especially to new, less experienced, designers.