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Review: Constructing Usable
by John S.
Published: March 2002
Overall Value 9
|Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Rules for Good Menu Design
Chapter 2: Information Architecture for Menus
Chapter 4: Menus with Advanced Scripting and DHTML
Chapter 5: Flash Menus
Chapter 6: Dynamic Server-Side Menus
This is a book
for programmers who are interested in developing better menus and
navigation for web sites. It doesn't try to dive into the delicate intricacies
of information architecture nor does it try to explain how to run usability
tests. It is simply about helping developers create more useful menus, while
at the same time using advanced techniques.
The first couple
of chapters discuss some basic usability principles including 12 rules
for menu usability:
Menus must be considerate of the user's main task.
Menus must be distinct from content.
Menus must be clearly readable (this includes visual contrast and text and icon size).
Menus must be easily scanned for information.
Menus must be easily operated.
Menus must behave as your target user would expect.
Menus must load as quickly as possible.
Menus must be consistent across a site.
Menus must put a higher premium on usability than branding.
Menus must be localizable.
Menus must be accessible to the handicapped.
Menus must work on multiple browsers.
Most people will
quickly realize that these rules are rather generic. They apply to web sites
in general and the author makes no bones about this. However, it is still
good to have these ideas in plain view. After all, there are people who
don't know too much about usability so this might be just what they need.
Given the audience for this book, it seems like the right approach.
What is Good About the Book?
The book is very
focused. As the web usability field matures this is exactly the right
approach. We need to continue to dig deeper into specific usability issues.
Along similar lines, it is becoming more and more important to drive
usability to the edges of development and help the people that are actually
doing the development work. There will always be room for usability
professionals but there is no reason why developers shouldn't be spending
more time thinking about how to create web sites that are easier to use.
The majority of Constructing
Usable Web Menus is dedicated to exploring examples and coding issues.
One thing that I really liked was that a lot of time was spent on more
advanced issues such as using cascading style sheets (CSS) to build
and manipulate web menus. As the web evolves and as more content is divorced
from presentation, knowledge of CSS will become critical. This is something
that developers will have to understand.
While I feel that
some of the details of usability itself are glossed over, the in-depth
information and tips on programming web menus are wonderful. I can easily
name the two examples that I liked the best:
information in an SQL database, converting it to XML, and displaying it
in a Flash menu
PHP/MySQL to create a breadcrumb navigational trail (server-side menu
Each little piece
of code in the examples is well-defined and explained. While I admit to
getting lost several times, I could tell that programmers would be able to
really dig into the examples. When I was lost it was mainly because I read
the book to understand the concepts not the programming details. If you are
willing to spend the time, this means that almost any web professional could
benefit from the examples. Like many other things in life, what you put in
will dictate what you get out.
What is Bad About the Book?
"problems" with Constructing Usable Web Menus are mostly
deliberate. For example, at times the book is too advanced. Most developers
will appreciate this, but I did not. Then again, I am not exactly the right
audience for this book so this isn't really an issue.
I would have liked
to have seen more examples of web sites that use menus effectively. The book
has examples but they are mostly the ones built for the book. Significantly
more profiles of web sites that use different menu systems would have been
great, especially for web sites using Flash. Don't get me wrong; there are
many examples in the first couple of chapters. I'm just being greedy here. I
want to see more examples, that's all. The advantage of fewer examples,
however, is that it keeps the book slim. We're all time pressed so maybe
less is more?
I wish the book
was in color since menus are so visual. There were a couple of times that
color would have helped, especially with the examples in the early chapters.
I'm guessing that the publisher (glasshaus) decided to go black-and-white to
keep the cost of publication to a minimum. That's fair; we all like
biggest issue I have with Constructing Usable Web Menus is that is
seems to have a split personality. The first two chapters are very strictly
about usability and the focus is not on code. The last chapters are all
about code. The switch is abrupt. For example, the 12 rules mentioned above
are not really mentioned in the last two-thirds of the book. I'm saying that
the book is not as integrated as I would like. This is mainly because the
book is short and there are four authors. There are two upsides to this.
First, the editor(s) did a nice job bringing things together as much as they
did. That can be tough. The second upside is that each author covered their
material very well. That is, they each focused on their topics very well.
If you are a web
developer and you care about building usable web menus, this book is
definitely worth buying. It is a short, powerful, easy-to-read book at a
fair cost. Some of the more advanced programming techniques are worth the
price alone. Want my advice? Add this book to your library.
Please send them to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to know what you think about this report.