Training Tracks: How to become amazing at User Experience
25 February 2013, by Chris Harris
At Softwire we select employees on the basis of technical ability and potential as well as technical knowledge, and provide all the training that our new recruits need in-house. It goes without saying, then, that training is something we devote a lot of time to getting right, and it takes many different forms.
We thought we’d share one of those forms with you: our set of recommended reading lists or “Training Tracks”. We get a top developer to compile a list of books, tutorials and other on-line resources for a specific technology or area of development, and categorise them into different levels, all the way from beginner (Level 1) to ninja (Level 5 and beyond). Below is Tej’s UX Training Track to start the series: we hope you find it useful!
Level 1 – Introduction
What is UX Design?
“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs
User Experience (UX) Design is about designing products and services that enhance or extend the way people interact with technology in their everyday and working lives. It’s about making interactive products work harder to make our lives easier. About designing to help people complete their tasks and achieve their goals. And about making software easy to learn, and efficient and enjoyable to use.
Whether it’s a household product, a piece of software, or a fashion item, all products evoke some sort of user experience, and so the name UX Design is frowned upon by many in the industry for theft of a common term. Another term for UX Design is Interaction Design.
A large part of UX Design is about understanding the needs and characteristics of the target user group. This target group could range from inexperienced computer users, through to web savvy consumers, office workers or highly skilled and specialised users such as forex traders. Even developers! So the UX Design process features user involvement throughout the design process, which itself is research-based and iterative with evaluation findings feeding back into the design process.
Why is it Important?
Badly designed software interfaces can have serious consequences on a company’s commercial success, on staff productivity and on general welfare / happiness. Well designed interfaces can have the opposite effect, giving a competitive advantage in the market. To the customer, it’s often the case that the interface “is” the product and the overall quality of the deliverable will be largely judged based on the interface.
- Don’t make me think – Steve Krug. If you only have time to read one thing about UX Design, read this book. It features as one of Jeff Atwood’s top five recommended texts for all developers on codinghorror. And it’s very relevant for what we do at softwire since it’s largely based on the web
Level 2 – Interface design
- Web Form Design – Luke Wroblewski. (Or watch this 90 minute presentation on the web.)
- Designing Web Interfaces – Bill Scott & Theresa Neil. This book covers exciting new ways to structure slick web 2.0 style interfaces, covering a range of modern user interface widgets, controls and design patterns.
- A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web – Mark Boulton. As mentioned above, UX Design is not just about how it looks, it’s about how it works. Visual Design makes up the “how it looks” portion of that statement and this book is about Visual Design. However, learning UX Design does not require that you become an inspiring artist, and you don’t have to learn any Visual Design at all if you don’t want to. But learning the basics of Photoshop, layout, typography and colour theory will be useful and interesting for technically minded people.
Design and create your own personal website. Or design a new to-do list app. Or redesign a web app you commonly use e.g. gmail (we’re just talking about designing a UI concept here, not a fully working app). Then show it to your colleagues and ask for feedback.
The following blogs are worth following.
Level 3 – Interaction Design Theory
Everything up until now will have given you a good grounding in practical interface design. But UX Design is based on more than common sense design principles and from this point onwards things get more interesting as we explore underlying theories.
Studying Interaction Design to a more detailed level will help you understand the theory behind determining the optimal approach to take when designing an interface. Interaction Design involves understanding how people think and behave, from the cognitive processes that help us learn and memorise, to the psychology behind emotions.
Interaction Design is a multidisciplinary topic, based on HCI (Human-Computer Interaction), computer science, ergonomics, psychology, informatics, various types of design and engineering.
- Interaction Design – Preece, Rogers and Sharp. This is the Interaction Design Bible, giving a great detailed introduction to the subject. It is an academic textbook aimed at undergraduates and features exercises throughout that are well worth doing. The Open University run a 10-month part-time course that is based entirely around this book. Stanford University were also set to offer a free online course in HCI, although this seems to be on hold for the moment.
Take a personal website, or alternatively any website you think needs improving. Construct a survey to ask your friends and family, and observe them trying to use that website, and provide a list of recommendations based on the results.
London meet-up groups
There are a few UX oriented book clubs in London, which are worth attending if you’re interested in meeting people with similar interests or learning more about the topic.
Level 4 – Broader Topics
This level aims to deepen your knowledge of UX Design by studying a range of topics in greater depth. It also features some cutting edge techniques for developing web application UI.
- Mobile Design – Brian Fling. Mobile is a big deal these days and brings a whole load of new challenges to the table.
- Information Architecture – Peter Morville. Information architecture is about the findability of content, and covers topics such as how to design search functionality and navigation, as well as how to display results for fast access and manipulation.
- (Bonus) Designing for the social web – Joshua Porter
- (Bonus) Universal principles of design – Lidwell, Holden & Butler
Rich Interface Development Patterns
Level 5 – HCI Theory
This level aims to introduce you to Human-Computer Interaction Theory and current research, as well as listing some conferences for the mega-keen.
- HCI Models, Theories and Frameworks – John Carroll
- Human Computer Interaction – Alan Dix
- Alan Blackwell’s HCI course notes from Cambridge University Computer Lab
- Usability of programming languages. There’s lots of research going on at the moment at the Computer Lab related to designing programming languages to better aid developer productivity.
- Innovative user interfaces