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Constitution

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
ISBN 0-7357-1202-6
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2001094557
Price: USD$29.99


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 miseries in terms of user experience. For example, the traffic accident occurred 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.



© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

January , 2003

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN