Edward Tufte‘s books on information design and Donald Norman’s books on usability continue to influence me. When I first read it, “The Design of Everyday Things” explained the principles behind things I had noticed all my life. “Why do I pull this door when it clearly says push?” Because it has a handle on this side, and handles are for pulling. I continually read articles and discussions on usability and information design but these are what got me looking at the world this way, and they are still the sources I go back to. I also like Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think,” which is worth it for the title alone.
These are the basic people-centric principles I try to keep in mind:
- Be clear. The layout and language should set and meet expectations.
- Clarity is in the mind of the beholder. Is the proper information and action clear to your intended user?
- Tufte’s idea of “the smallest effective difference” is appropriate for response cues as well as layout informational hierarchy.
- We’re building tools for people to use, not tests for them to fail.
- The look and feel of the design sets the stage for the actions people will take.
I subscribe to the Nielsen/Norman newsletters (along with some 80,000 other people) for usability information on new devices, intranets, etc. The basic principles the Nielsn/Norman Group uncover in their studies seem to stay the same, even though the devices and uses change. In a recent newsletter, Jakob Nielsen said, “Technology changes quickly, but people’s brains stay the same.” As long as we’re designing things for people, we should keep the same fundamentals in mind.