How many times have you been involved in a Web site design effort that seems to fit this approach? Sadly, we all have such experiences in our lives. This delightful little book provides user experience designers a conceptual model for producing Web sites. This allows for a process that is rigorous, logical, and easily communicated.
Jesse James Garrett defines the term "user experience" as "...how (a) product behaves and is used in the real world." He focuses this book on consideration of one particular kind of product: Web sites.
In the Introduction, the author describes this book as
"...not a how-to book, ...not a book about technology, ...(and) not a book of answers. Instead, this book is about asking the right questions.
"This book will tell you what you need to know before you go read those other books. If you need the big picture, if you need to understand the context for the decisions that user experience practitioners make, this book is for you."
I agree wholeheartedly. The role that this book can play in developing your skill as a user experience practitioner is analogous to the role of ground school for a fledgling airplane pilot. Before a prospective pilot gets behind the controls, ground school teaches the principles of flight, aircraft systems, and other basics that need to be understood before actually taking off. Similarly, this book provides a way of understanding user experience that helps you make informed decisions as you begin and continue the design of a user experience. Garrett suggests (and I agree) that the two primary audiences for the book are newcomers (such as an executive responsible for assembling a user experience team) and those who are more familiar with user experience design and need to communicate their methods and concerns to others in an understandable way.
In a subsection of the Introduction entitled "The Story Behind the Book," Garrett relates the tale of how the book came to be. It goes back to a three-dimensional diagram he developed in late 1999 and early 2000, that serves as a model for visualizing both the elements of user experience and their interrelationships. Garrett points out that there is a duality to Websites, which he describes in a note accompanying that diagram as follows:
"The Web was originally conceived as a hypertextual information space; but the development of increasingly sophisticated front- and back-end technologies has fostered its use as a remote software interface. This dual nature has led to much confusion, as user experience practitioners have attempted to adapt their terminology to cases beyond the scope of its original application."
Furthermore, the diagram provides a clear and consistent way to use the plethora of terms that have been used (and, in many cases, misused) to refer to aspects of user experience design. He includes such terms as User Needs, Site Objectives, Content Requirements, Functional Specifications, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Information Design, Navigational Design, Interface Design, and Visual Design, shows them in the context of his model, and clarifies their underlying relationships. This diagram, which is available on the Web, was first published in March 2000 and, in the ensuing year, was downloaded more than 20,000 times. Garrett's Web site also includes other information useful to user experience designers.
A more detailed explanation of that diagram and how it can be used to understand the aspects and processes of intelligent user experience design form the core of the book. Garrett begins with a lucid and succinct explanation of what is meant by "user experience" and why it is important. He follows this with an introduction to the diagram and chapters on each of its five planes: Strategy, Scope, Structure, Skeleton, and Surface. He then ties it all together with a chapter that looks at how these understandings can be applied to the actual development of Web sites.
The book is very well written and executed. Diagrams are clear, terminology is used consistently, navigation aids and advance organizers are used to good advantage, and the book design is clean and visually appealing. Garrett's writing style makes approachable a highly complex subject, while still including all the essentials. The book includes a 13-page index, which is quite extensive for a volume of this length. This serves as a useful tool that allows you to dip into the information as needed once you have read it through. This slim volume is just the right length to be read in a single sitting, say, on a business flight.
I wish that this book and the diagram upon which it is based were available when I first attempted the design of user experiences. It could have saved me from false starts, sub-optimal choices, and other hard-won lessons, and would have made it much easier for me to communicate my ideas to my fellow team members and to the managers for whom I worked. "Better late than never" is an adage that applies here. I'm glad it is available now, and I expect to get my money's worth from it.
Get this book. Read it. Understand it. Apply it. You'll be a better user experience designer because of it.