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about design: essays, books, etc.

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Books, Articles & Useful Sites about Design

What I've Read So Far & Recommend:

Overview and General Philosophy of Design

(i.e., a scope larger than just computers and software, but highly relevant to those areas of application)
  • The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman

    Many people in the Design and Usability professions recommend this as a sine qua non for anyone interested in what constitutes good design. Don Norman started out as Chair of the Cog Sci department at UCSD and decided to take his expertise into the thick of the high tech biz. He's worked at Apple Computer and Hewlett Packard (in my work as an ad agency tech support guy, I detected his influence on HP's large format printer interface design - a model of clarity compared to Epson, Canon and the rest), and is now teamed with Web Usability Guru Jakob Nielsen in the Nielson Norman Group.

  • Things that Make Us Smart, by Don Norman

    One of the key concepts from this book that I find useful on a daily basis is his distinction between Knowledge in the Mind (that which we can memorize and recall as needed, which for most people has significant limits in capacity and accuracy of recall) and Knowledge in the World (expertise and guidance which is embedded in the tools themselves - in particular, via the mechanisms of "affordances" and "constraints" which he discussed in The Design of Everyday Things - eliminating the need to memorize everything, which is largely unattainable in any case.)

  • A Pattern Language, by Chris Alexander

    A book about architecture, but much more also: his emphasis on analyzing the whole fabric of human endeavor, from the smallest granularity of items needed in a room up to the context of whole cities and regions, and distilling from that analysis an integral system of principles of what works and doesn't work - a pattern language -for the people for whom one is designing, has clear implications for all areas of design.

  • How Buildings Learn, by Stewart Brand

    Another architecture book, of course, which focuses on the ways in which building design facilitates or hinders a building's adaptability for changing use over time, as well as its long-term maintenance and renewal. Again, there are clear implications for other areas of design; since many products may be used and "repurposed", as the old corporate cliche puts it, repeatedly, it behooves designers to build in methods for user reconfiguration, to encapsulate appropriate parts of their design and implementation expertise into user-configurable controls. This has the advantage among other things of taking much of the burden of "clairvoyance" off of the designers and builders, as in "hmmm... what will they want to do with this tool besides what we've thought of? Or more to the point: besides what they've thought of yet?" (Which of course can't be tested for in usability testing iterations.) Michael Dertouzos predicts that one day we will all be "programmers" - NOT in the sense that we'll all learn code, but in that we'll be given pre-programmed modular software tools which we can combine in highly customized ways to suit our individual needs. (He emphasizes that today's one-size-fits-all software with its jumble of different features standing in for, or confused with, user "choice" is not what he means.)

Software and Web Design in Particular

All content herein copyright © 1995-2002 by Kai Matthews, except where I've explicitly noted items as others' work.

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