Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge

On September 23rd the Calgary UX Book Club got together to review Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge. I was pleasantly surprised to have a total of 12 people out for our first get-together. While I didn't finish the entire book before the review, I have since completed the seven-hundred plus pages. Below are my thoughts about the book...

The first four chapters were interesting, as Bill took us back through history looking at the evolution of the personal computer with a variety of interviews and images from the 'grandparents' of Interaction Design. I was particularly keen on seeing the early prototypes of a mouse (made out of wood) and the laptops.

It was cool to see the trial and error in the development of the Apple Lisa GUI documented in the Polaroids by Bill Atkinson. It's amazing how we forget and/or take for granted all the time, effort and detail that went into defining how we interact with computers today. While a lot of that early framework is still apart of the basic operating system, one aspect that I find really interesting is how we are evolving past some GUI elements like the scroll bar. I still see them as an important visual indicator of the length of a document or where I am within that document, but very rarely do I actually use them as a method to navigate, as the scroll wheel on my mouse has taken their place.

Cordell Ratzlaff, the creator of the Macintosh operating systems (OS 8-X), hits the nail on the head when he says "As interaction designers, we need to remember that it is not about the interface, it's about what people want to do! To come up with great designs, you need to know who those people are and what they are really trying to accomplish." This should be the core philosophy of every interaction designer, if it isn't already.

As we continue to journey through the book it was neat to see that a lot the same tools & techniques are still relevant in today's UX practices. Not that this was that long ago. Even Agile or iterative development methodologies were being applied. Something the company I work for has recently adopted.

Like a lot of other people I have talked to about the book, there is a overwhelming dislike for all the seemingly self gratifying references to IDEO and "the author". At times it makes me feel uncomfortable, like I am eavesdropping in on a conversation at the old boys club.

For me the two best parts of the book, are within the last chapter "People and Prototypes" when Bill touches on the "Core Skills of Design" and the "Elements of the Design Process".

For those that are interested, the five core skills of a design, according to Bill Moggridge are...

1) to synthesize a solution from all of the relevant constraints,
understanding everything that will make a difference to the result

2) To frame, or reframe, the problem and objective

3) To create and envision alternatives

4) To select from those alternatives, knowing intuitively how to
choose the best approach

5) To visualize and prototype the intended solution

And the basic elements of the design process can be generalized into these ten elements: constraints, synthesis, framing, ideation, envisioning, uncertainty, selection, visualization, prototyping and evaluation.

Both the five skills and the basic elements can be applied in the listed order, but the process is iterative rather than linear and does not necessarily follow a sequence.'s more like playing a pinball machine, where one bounces rapidly in unexpected directions.

Overall, I think this book would benefit from a little stricter editing process, but well worth the investment in time and money to read. At the very least you'll get a mild work-out while you read it! :)