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Volume 6, Issue 2, March 2003
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Book Review: The Elements of User Experience
By Dick Miller
Author: Jesse James Garrett
Publisher: New Riders Publishing
Publication Date: October 2002
Length: 189 pages
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: User Experience and Why It Matters
Chapter 2: Meet the Elements
Chapter 3: The Strategy Plane — Site Objectives and User Needs
Chapter 4: The Scope Plane — Functional Specifications and Content
Chapter 5: The Structure Plane — Interaction Design and Information
Chapter 6: The Skeleton Plane — Interface Design, Navigation Design,
and Information Design
Chapter 7: The Surface Plane — Visual Design
Chapter 8: The Elements Applied
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 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
æ 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 Web sites, which he describes in a note accompanying
that diagram as follows:
“The Web was originally conceived as a hyper-textual 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 at http://www.jjg.net/elements.pdf,
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 the 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 a highly complex subject approachable,
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.
Dick Miller is a senior member of the Willamette Valley Chapter of
STC. Dick has worked to help people understand and use complex systems
for 35 years in a variety of positions in the public and private sectors
and as an independent consultant. Currently he is at Hewlett-Packard in
Vancouver, Wash., where he provides documentation and usability services
for the Information Technology Department. He is a member of the Usability
SIG, where he was the editor of their award-winning newsletter. In what
free time he can find, he likes to play Dixieland trombone and tuba. Dick
Miller can be reached at email@example.com.