This post is written as part of O'Reilly Media's Blogger Review Program.
"Designing Interfaces" by Jenifer Tidwell combines reference and how-to in one thorough, accessible book. I keep an eBook copy on my iOS devices so I can always have it with me.
Given the title, the book could easily stretch to thousands of pages, but Tidwell does a nice job of delivering a few general intro chapters before diving into a rich collection of interface design patterns. The patterns are what make me keep this book close at hand.
Consider something as mundane as a list of items that needs to appear in a user interface. Designing Interfaces has a whole chapter devoted to this common problem, containing a host of solutions along with the rationale for when to use each one. Examples relating to lists include:
- Thumbnail Grid
- Row Striping
- Alphabet Scroller
Each pattern is described and defined, and some good use cases are supplied as well. This is referred to as the Use when. (For example, use a Thumbnail Grid when "the list of items have small visual representations that uniquely identify them.")
Even better, each pattern also includes a Why, How and Examples of popular apps that correctly use the pattern. I see these three sections as providing value to a slightly different audience.
The Why is for an interaction designer to mull over the rationale and ensure that the problem they're solving matches this pattern. If not, they should move on and consider alternatives.
The How is more for a visual designer or front-end engineer to understand the nuts and bolts of the implementation. This is quite useful, both details that are easy to overlook and for guidance on what not to do.
The Examples are useful for anyone with a working eye, but I find them particularly effective as illustrations for non-designer stakeholders and clients to get a sense for "how it will really be." I feel strongly that you can't make progress in those types of discussions without using visuals, so it's convenient that they're baked right into the book.
Though part of me hates to admit it, the fact that the examples are mostly taken from popular, successful sites (YouTube, Zappos, etc.) means the concepts behind them are easier to pitch to clients. Everyone's got tight deadlines, and the less time spent arguing and debating, the better.
If you pull from these patterns to sell your design ideas, you'll find that having a clear vocabulary on the concepts and patterns makes you more effective. If you're doing the pitching, take a close look at the Use when and Why sections.
When you're brainstorming rough ideas for a given user interface flow, I recommend you take a moment to unpack the true problem at hand and consult a book like this for alternatives that didn't come to mind. It's tempting to rush through the ideation stage when you have a deadline, but I can say that my work has greatly improved if stop to breathe, think and realize others have likely already worked through this problem.