REVIEW - Designing from Both Sides of the Screen - How Designers and Engineers Can Collaborate to Build Cooperative Technology


Designing from Both Sides of the Screen

How Designers and Engineers Can Collaborate to Build Cooperative Technology


Ellen Isaacs, Alan Walendowski



Sams Publishing (2002)




Christopher Hill


December 2002



Think of the old butler in a black and white movie; speaking when spoken to; anticipating employer's needs; remembering how things were done last time; doing the job with out complaining. Over time, the employer learns how to make requests, spotting that she gets better results if she asks one way rather than another, picking up on his feedback. They develop a good relationship and learn to work together without noticing the interaction. They learn to collaborate.

The premise of this book is that there should be a relationship of collaboration between the user and the software. The software should allow the user to quickly get into a state of flow, where they can focus on the work that needs doing, without having to stop and persuade the software to do the task at hand. Isaacs proposes a number of principles grouped under two main headings.

Don't Impose - make every click count, remember where they put things and remember what they told you.

Be helpful - use visual elements sparingly, make common tasks visible - hide infrequent ones, give feedback, follow conventions, solve problems - don't complain or pass the buck, be predictable and explain in plain language.

The book is split into two parts. The first part describes the principles with many examples of good and bad practice. The principles are easy to grasp and are full of those 'of course' moments. The second part takes the reader through the development of a real project, from talking with the customer to establish the requirement, through to laying out the user interface using storyboards. Only now are the programmers let loose to build the software and the architecture to support the user interface and we see how the initial problems are resolved and for use throughout the project, how to run Usage Studies.

A very easy to read book, yet packed with useful ideas for building collaborative software. Anyone designing and/or building any computer user interface should read the first part of the book and they will find they enjoyed the rest of the book as well. Highly recommended.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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