The Elements of User Experience - User-Centered Design for the Web
By Jesse James Garrett
Published by American Institute of Graphic Arts and New Riders Publishing
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2001094557
Reviewed by Barbara Manning
This short book (189 pages) delivers on its author's promise to provide a solid
foundation for understanding what you need to know to create an effective atmosphere
for developing and designing a user experience driven web site. It doesn't tell
you how to build the site, instead it provides a platform that everyone involved
can use to ask the right questions when discussing site objectives (strategy);
functional specifications and content requirements (scope); interaction and
information architecture (structure); interface, navigation and information
design (skeleton); and visual design (surface). In fact, those topics comprise
five of the eight chapters in the book.
The first and second chapters provide the reader with reasons why creating
a web site from the user experience perspective matters, and introduces you
to the topics noted above. Of particular note is the manner and tone of the
book itself, which not unsurprisingly is written from a user's perspective.
For example, the opening gambit, called Everyday Miseries tells the all too
common tale of a typical bad day - you know the kind - where everything seems
to go wrong. The payoff is in the author's explanation of why all these "bad
day" incidences occurred, and how it would have never happened, if only
the manufacturers had designed the products with the users firmly in mind.
"User experience is not about how a product works on the inside (although
that sometimes has a lot of influence). User experience is about how it works
on the outside, where a person comes into contact with it and has to work with
it." This lesson and others are brought to life by explaining the everyday
because "?cthe driver took his eyes off the road for a moment to turn the
radio down. He had to look down because it was impossible to identify which
was the volume control by touch alone." Later, he ties it conceptually
to web sites by reminding us that web sites are "self-service" - and
generally do not come with instruction manuals, training seminars, or customer
service to guide users through the site. "There is only the user, facing
the site alone with only her wits and experience to guide her." he says.
In Chapter two we learn the definitions of the five topics - planes as the
author calls them - and how they relate to and depend on one another. It's here
that the reader first encounters the concept of ripple effects and its impact
on decision making for all planes. It also clarified (for me) the historical
reasons why basic web site terminology was such a stumbling block, and why in
some companies it continues to get in the way of good site design. Finally it
provides a very simple and very good visual of the five planes, the relationships
between them, and to the tasks and information needed to develop a user-centered
web site. The visual is elegant, simple and clear, and gains in strength from
its judicious use throughout the book. This is a good place to suggest that
you visit http://www.jjg.net for a closer look of your own.
The heart of the book - detailed descriptions of the why and what of the five
planes - is compact, cogent narrative that is informative and at the same time
enlightening. Not one to belabor a point or provide endless examples, the author
teaches instead of preaches. Again, he takes his own advice, and provides succinct
definitions and pathways that clearly lay out the benefits of user-centered
design that allow organizations to create environments necessary for the successful
implementation of a user-centered web site.
Garrett concludes with a chapter on failed web site development approaches,
and avoidance techniques. Far from being the downer described here, the chapter
is a primer on keeping the project on track and tracking the progress. Repeating
his theme of simplicity, he provides two basic ideas for a successful approach:
1) Understand what problem you're trying to solve - i.e., on what plane does
the problem reside; and 2) Understand the consequences of your solution to the
problem - i.e., the potential for the solution to "ripple" through
the site in unexpected ways needs to be examined and taken care of.
While this might elicit groans from readers of this review, and the author
admits that this is a "painfully obvious approach" he reminds us that
many "tiny decisions that make up the user experience development process
aren't made consciously at all," and goes on to define three design scenarios
where user-centered design concepts are left in the dust. For example, design
by default is called so because the web site follows the structure of the underlying
technology of your organization. Web site content that comes to the user on
different pages of the site might better serve if it were brought together.
However, it remains separate on the site because the content comes from separate
departments. His descriptions and antidotes of other "bad design scenarios"
provide equally valuable insights.
He also furnishes ample argument for addressing the fundamental user experience
issues at the project's onset. We've all been cursed by the "there is never
time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over" syndrome.
Garrett supplies several appealing methods of avoiding this syndrome and convincing
others of the rightness of your approach. His metaphoric use of the differences
between running a marathon and running a sprint brings home the points made
previously and is a beautiful way to explain issues to stakeholders who simply
want the project done.
The few hours you'll devote to this book are well worth it regardless of your
involvement in web site development. It's an asset to understanding any web
site, and may even help to focus the frustration you may feel while attempting
to navigate through poorly designed web sites.
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January , 2003
The Newsletter of the
Tokyo PC Users Group
Tokyo PC Users Group,
Post Office Box 103,
Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN