Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design, by Jenifer Tidwell, ISBN: 0-596-00803-1

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, March 2006
Published by: O'Reilly
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$49.95, UK£35.50, CA$69.95

I recently finished a project with Adobe which involved designing a user interface (UI) for a component of the next generation of the Adobe Creative Suite. I've had plenty of experience with UI design and have some experience with the user interaction side of this design discipline as well. User interfaces are the physical or virtual environments which enable users to work with software and hardware to achieve their given tasks. User interaction, on the other hand, relates to the relationship users have to those interfaces and how they interact with them. This book by Jenifer Tidwell covers both disciplines.

At the end of my project with Adobe I'd found that my perception of interaction design had changed and Adobe's User Experience group was also due to undergo a change as a result of the company's acquisition of Macromedia. When I came across this book in the list of titles available for review, I jumped at the chance to get a look at it. It was great seeing a lot of the concepts and ideas I'd come across in the time I spent at Adobe. After reading the book, I wished I'd been able to get a copy of it earlier because it's a well presented and well structured work which covers almost the whole spectrum of UI and interaction design.

This excellent reference work covers designing for mobile, media and virtual devices, the web, forms, business and graphics-based applications. During the course of the review, I focused on the presentation of the information in the book and how well it guides the reader through the world of UI design.

Designing Interfaces begins by explaining to the user what users actually do, and then subsequently takes us into the world of content organization and presentation. The book also covers navigational principles and patterns, layout, action and commands and how they allow us to do stuff. There are large sections on information graphics and data presentation, user input and feedback through forms and controls, editing tools and principles, and finally a look at the aesthetics and styling of UI design.

Each chapter and pattern is well presented and illustrated with very well chosen examples, which do nothing to occlude or mystify the information presented. As an exercise in UI design, this book is itself an excellent example, as it allows the reader to navigate through and experience the information within it quickly. The only visual issue I had was that I felt that when the book strayed into a single column format from the double column format generally used throughout, the column width was too large and the choice of font was too light.

The book isn't aimed at the layperson, but more at the individual whose day-to-day job touches the design world. Every chapter introduces the concepts it deals with and then runs through various examples with information which details what the pattern is, when to use it, why it should be used, how it works and is arranged and finally some examples of the UI concept being presented. This type of approach provides a rational context and helps to effectively explain the metaphor or patterns as they are described in this book and in UI circles. This pattern-based approach is very effective at conveying and encapsulating common concepts in a way which allows designers and programmers to grasp ideas quickly. It helps build a bridge between the visual world of designers and the logical world of programmers.

The concept of patterns is something which I enjoy because it helps to explain a lot of what we as designers deal with on an instinctive level. It also helps designers to demonstrate that creativity isn't without a logical foundation. Design is all about imposing some type of order on what most people perceive as chaos. As some of us know, chaos can sometimes be nothing more than order on a level of complexity beyond what is immediately apparent. Interface design and interactivity are about making order out of the all pieces required to achieve a given task or series of tasks. I enjoyed reading this book because it is something I would have loved to have had 20 years ago when I first began my career in design.

Cons: I would have liked to see a little more coverage of icons, icon based interfaces and the language and metaphors which relate to icon design. The handling of cultural and language issues is something which also need some expansion. Typographically weak in some places, with column width and font choices creating some problems.

Pros: Well written and presented. The examples are well selected and comprehensive. Very current in its coverage of interface design concepts. Designing interfaces is well put together, and a must-have for anyone involved in UI of any kind. If you are a designer thinking about getting into user experience, interfaces or interactivity or a programmer wishing to better understand what is required of your work then this book is for you. Highly recommended.

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