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This article is an online article published as part of the January 2003 issue (Vol 9, No. 3)


About the Book:

Garrett, J. J.  The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web. New Riders: Indianapolis, IN. 2003 
ISBN: 0-7357-1202-6.

Also Mentioned:

Whiteside, J., Bennett, J., and Holtzblatt, K.  Usability Engineering: Our Experience and Evolution, in Handbook of Human Computer Interaction, M. Helander (Ed.). New York: North Holland, 1988 
ISBN: 0-4447-0536-8.

STC Usability SIG Newsletter

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Usability Interface

Book Review: Usability Intro for Managers
The Elements of User Experience
by Jesse James Garrett

Reviewed by Alice Preston and Chauncey Wilson

The year 2002 ended with the publication of a new book by Jesse James Garrett entitled "The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web." The Elements of User Experience is written to be an introduction for general business managers. As Garrett states in his introduction:

"This book is written to be read in just a few hours. If you’re a newcomer to the world of user experience—maybe you’re an executive responsible for hiring a user experience team or maybe you’re a writer or designer just finding your way into this field—this book will give you the foundation you need."

Garrett uses simple, but powerful illustrations to show the relationship of the user experience elements and design. In fact, a single diagram Garrett developed is the basis for the entire book.

This book takes its place next to Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug as one of the newest books written to convert management to this "new field" of usability. While it does a good job of correlating terminology from several different fields that converged in the creation of the web, it probably has little news for those of us who have spent even part of our careers in the field. However, because Garrett speaks to the new generation of web designers, seemingly educated without reference to what we’ve been up to, this may become a useful primer for the new generation.

I found the historical discussions interesting, even if they are historical only in web years, as Garrett says at one point. For example, Garrett characterizes the early web days as follows:

"When the web user experience community started to form, its members spoke two different languages. One group saw every problem as an application design problem, and applied problem-solving approaches from the traditional desktop and mainframe software worlds. (These, in turn, were rooted in common practices applied to creating all kinds of products, from cars to running shoes.) The other group saw the web in terms of information distribution and retrieval, and applied problem-solving approaches from the traditional worlds of publishing, media, and information science."

I lived through the hypertext to Human Resource-driven to Flash-point styles of pages on the web, but hadn’t given the process the kind of careful thought it deserved. I appreciate the effort that he has taken to bring the varying vocabularies together, even if he doesn’t always give credit where credit is due for the origins of those vocabulary elements—a common problem with many recent books on web and user experience design.

One limitation of the book is that Garrett has skimpy reference lists at the end of each chapter. The references only list a few of the best-known and most recent publications (Cooper, Norman, and Tufte get plugs, for example). A visit to his touted web site produced only the same references, with an extra sentence about each. I suspect that this editorial style is meant to appeal to those who operate at "Internet time." However, it would be useful for those who grasp the high level importance of a good user experience to have more substantive sources that will help the reader move to the next level of enlightened design. Many of the issues, methods, and ideas that are touted as new (for example, metrics and quantitative goals) have been around for nearly 20 years (see Whiteside, Bennett, and Holtzblatt (1988) for the classic reference on metrics and goals).

If you know a manager who needs a quick, clear, and non-condescending introduction to what you’re talking about, this might just be the right book to buy and leave around where it can be seen and read. If you are a practitioner with several years of experience, the graphics may provide useful templates for management briefings, but you won’t learn much that will help make you a better user experience designer. 

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