Thoughts on some new books

There’s a handful of new design related books available now. Both new titles and new editions of old favorites. “Sketching User Experiences” by Bill Buxton and “User-centered Design Stories” edited by Carol Righi are new and Alan Cooper’s classic “About Face 3” has been given a major update.

No time to write up lengthy detailed reviews for them all so I’ll just relate a few initial impressions from the new.

In “Sketching User Experiences”, Buxton writes as if the confines of the printed page is too much to bear, both literally and figuratively. I’m a stickler for detail in book design and things like too long line lengths or screwy margins leave a horrible first impression. Maybe the 2nd edition will fix those problems.

There’s not a lot of summarizing going on. The synthesis is multi-layered & textured. You need to settle down with this book and take notes. It’s not always clear how (or why) he moves from point to point. Some concepts show up for a chapter or two and then they’re gone. Are we talking process? Strategy? Implementation? Unclear.

For example (just try to make sense of this), Buxton introduces the film making production team concept as applied to design (pg 78-80), skip a few chapters to the “design allows us to consider the future” concept (pg 207-215), then to the “vision and leadership” coda (pg 223-224). What is missing through this meandering journey is the thread of reinforcement!

Simple reinforcement goes a long way. In the first example he explains how a director/producer team acts as the vision & leadership for a creative product (the film) and yet in the last example he laments the lack of vision and leadership in design management. In between is some observation on how technology takes 20 years to take hold. Such strange ordering! And why not reference his previous chapter on film making? Give the reader a hint that it’s all going to come together!

Similar to “Designing Interactions” by Bill Moggridge, plenty of beautiful imagery fills the pages of Buxton’s book. I’ll never grow tired of looking at the creative work process. In fact, I find Buxton’s book reads best in an ad hoc fashion: pick it up and turn to any chapter and go. His anecdotes and stories are interesting; he’s an accomplished historian in the interaction design world.

So Buxton’s free design love leaving you a little woozy? Look to “User-centered Design Stories” for an abundance of structure & order. Think biz school case studies applied to design. This book and Buxton’s go well together actually—Buxton for the passion and spirit, UCD Stories for the rigor and analysis. A great pairing.

BONUS: Since we’re on the topic of user experience and books, here are a few more of my favorites:

The Conversations by Michael Ondaatje is a conversation between author Ondaatje and genius editor/sound designer/etc Walter Murch. I find Murch fascinating, especially his visual notation for editing.

Sketch Plan Build by Alejandro Bahamon shows off the visual thinking leading architects went through as they designed some of their more notable creations.

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