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Review: Usability: The Site Speaks For
exists to help web professionals gain perspective, not from the usability
pundits that have popped up like so many mushrooms after rain, but from
real practitioners. (From the Introduction by Molly
I for one, am tired of being presented with a
prescriptive list of 101 'guidelines' and being told that they will solve
all my usability problems, if only I would just implement them. The
authors of this book will explain why they bent the rules, and sometimes
discarded them completely.
The book consists
of a pragmatic introduction "beyond the buzz: the true meaning of
usability" by Molly Holzschlag followed by the six 'tales from the
design face'. Each chapter starts with a slightly cheesy, yet endearing
question and answer session where the author(s) are asked to comment on
items ranging from their favourite pizza, to their rating on a 'geek
index'. I found this one page intro helped me to view the authors as human
beings, rather than as 'subjects'. At the end of each chapter the authors
are given the opportunity to give photographic examples of items that they
personally rate as being 'usable'..
The sites covered
range from large companies like the BBC and Economist through to community
sites like Metafilter and Evolt.org. Also included are chapters on 'e-bay'
with tens of millions of users, and the one man SynFonts
Each of the tales are compelling and you want to keep reading
to see what happens next. The authors concentrate on why they did things,
rather than how they did them, so you won't be getting tips on
implementing navigation schemes in PHP or ASP. But you will find out
why eBay merged their design and usability groups into one, why
Flash was the right solution for SynFonts and why both evolt and
MetaFilter decided that un-threaded comments were the way to
All of the authors are very honest, admit when they made
mistakes, and then go onto explain why they made them and how they might
have done it differently.
All of the authors talk about the
importance of knowing your users and understanding what they need. You get
the feeling again and again that the authors have a really good feel for
their site's audience and make an effort to relate to them as human
Good About the Book?
Each chapter has
it's own voice and it is clear that the authors and editors have worked
very hard to produce a personal yet professional book that should be read
by anyone who is interested in the practice, as well as the theory of
usability. All of the sites discussed have been around for years, so
none of the authors had the luxury of starting with a clean slate. This is
the situation most readers will be in, and makes the book much more useful
than if it looked at brand new sites.
The publishers have put
a lot of effort into every detail of this book. The layout enhances the readability
of the book, and the screenshots have been carefully chosen to
reinforce the text rather than act as page candy. If I had to pick
one element that illustrates this attention to detail, it would be
Bill Johncocks has done an excellent job in producing an index that adds
real value to the book. I wish more publishers would follow this example
and employ professional
Bad About the Book?
I found the
mainstream company chapters (BBC and Economist) less appealing that the
others, as I didn't really get as personal a view as I did with the other
chapters. I think this is probably because the authors had to do a lot of
negotiation with the 'powers above' to get permission to be as honest and
frank as they actually have, but I do get the impression that there are
still a few good stories that couldn't be told lurking between the
If you want to see
how usability is practised in the real world, or if you just like to read
about other how your peers do their jobs then read this book.
Please send them to :
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