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Designing from Both Sides of the Screen: A Dialogue Between a Designer and an Engineer Paperback – 10 Dec 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Sams; 1 edition (10 Dec. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0672321513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0672321511
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,566,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Designing from Both Sides of the Screen: How Designers and Engineers Can Collaborate to Build Cooperative Technology is a must-have book for anyone developing user interfaces (UI). The authors define a seemingly simple goal, the Cooperative Principle for Technology: "Those who are designing, building, or managing the development of technology should teach their products to follow the same basic rules of cooperation that people use with each other."

In the first section, they show lots of good and bad UI examples from different devices (PC, PDA, photocopier, even a dashboard). Bad examples include confusing pop-ups, crowded menus and hilarious error messages like this one from Yahoo! Messenger: "You are not currently connected. Please click on Login and then Login to login again."

The book gives succinct design principles like, "Treat Clicks as Sacred". A violation of this would be those dreaded "Do you really mean it" pop-ups. Using a butler as an analogy, they point out that he’d soon be out of a job if he questioned, "Madam, are you sure you want me to answer the door?" A Design Guideline says, "If you have an Undo feature, there is no need to break the users’ flow to ask them whether they really want the program to do what they just asked it to do." Design Guidelines like this appear in the margins throughout the book for easy reference and are gathered in a handy appendix summary.

The second section goes into detail on the creation of the authors’ own project, Hubbub, a multi-device instant messaging application. Whenever a step in the process reflects the application of a design principle, there’s a purple callout in the text. Thus the book itself is an example of a cooperative UI that helps readers keep ideas organised as they read along.

Even if you’re not developing user interfaces, you’ll enjoy this book. There are many moments of recognition when you see just how flawed your favourite, or most hated, everyday application/operating system/Web site is, and how easily it could have been improved. And you may even find the principles of Cooperative Technology informing non-technological areas of your life. The authors make politeness and the anticipation of the needs of others seem logical, feasible and elegant. --Angelynn Grant

About the Author

Ellen Isaacs is a technology design leader at AT&T Labs. She has been designing user interfaces for over 12 years at such companies as Sun Microsystems, Excite@Home, and Electric Communities, where she worked on systems for Palm PDAs, the Web, Windows, and OpenWindows. Active in the human-computer interaction community, Ellen has designed and studied the use of innovative applications that help people communicate, collaborate, and manage their information. She has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford University. Ellen can be reached at

Alan Walendowski is a software engineer at AT&T Labs. He has been writing software for 15 years, working for companies such as Sun Microsystems, 3dfx, IBM, and ComputerVision. A "general purpose" programmer, he has developed device drivers, graphics engines, distributed systems, and user interfaces on various platforms, including PalmOS, Solaris, Linux, and Windows. Alan has a bachelor's degree in computer science from Boston University. He can be reached at

The authors have developed a Web site to continue the discussion started in this book. Please visit to contribute your comments and questions.

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By calmly on 25 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback
Ever wonder why, if books are almost always read by just one reader at a time, when reading a technical book you feel as if you're in a lecture hall with a distant expert addressing hundreds of students?

There's an extra intimacy that's created when an expert is confident enough to address the student as a peer. Ellen Isaacs and Alan Walendowski draw the reader in as an active participant using a superb extended example and a friendly conversational style. It's like the Socratic method but with Socrates as a peer. Two Socrates!

Using an example of an instant messenger that extends over two-thirds of the book, Ellen and Alan not only share their knowledge about usability but also about a real-world software development process. Rather than dictate this, they share their own thoughts as they repeatedly rework their product based on their own concerns and user feedback. It feels as if you joined their small development team and were privy to each obstacle they encountered in a highly iterative path.
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By scottishwildcat on 18 Nov. 2004
Format: Paperback
A fine and very readable book that highlights the often-overlooked practicalities of designing usable products, by following the interactions and compromises made between a UI designer and the development team during the design and implementation of a multi-platform instant messenger client.
The usability content won't be particularly new to seasoned UI professionals, but those from a non-technical background, and developers with limited usability experience, will find an interesting insight into what's happening on the other side of the fence... sorry, screen :)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Excellent UI design book. Programmers should also read it. 16 April 2002
By Jacky Kwok - Published on
Format: Paperback
First let me tell you this is an interaction design (or user interface design) book, since the title of the book doesn't do this job well.
This is one of the books that have great impact on me. I agree with the review written by Kevin Mullet (printed on the book's back cover) that the ideas presented in this book are a bit "dangerous". It is dangerous because they are not the common practice yet. If people want to follow these ideas, they need to have changes. Changes are always dangerous to many people.
Those "dangerous" ideas include:
- Build fewer features but build them well. (The current practice is to build as many features as possible so that marketers can list those features for promotion. Is a product easy to use? Everyone can claim that since there are no criteria for such a claim.)
- User interface design should drive the system architecture, not the other way around. (Modifying system architecture is always hard. If we want to support a certain interaction afterwards, the architecture will probably can't support cleanly, if at all.)
- Technology should be used for user needs, but not for technology's own sake. (Visual design should also be treated the same.)

Last but not least, this book shows that user interface design is actually science but not art. We don't need a graphic design degree to be an interaction designer.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Your will is my command. --Jeeves 30 Dec. 2001
By Robert Lockstone - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have been a software engineer for over a decade. In all that time, one of my least favorite engineering activities has been GUI design and programming. Part of the problem for me has always been the disconnect between what the UI designer or customer envisions and what the programmer can realistically deliver. This book can help tremendously in bridging that gap.
It is written by a UI Designer and a Software Engineer, and takes into account both of their viewpoints. After an initial introductory section to the basic concepts of good UI design, which is very thorough, as any butler should be (read the book to understand), the authors then relate a real-world example in which they collaborated on the design and implementation of a real product. Along the way, they provide some excellent ideas and techniques for how to go about producing a user-friendly user interface that won't take 5 major releases to get right. The product, an Instant Messaging application called Hubbub, is real and can be downloaded for free and installed on any Windows machine or Palm OS handheld. Although not as mature as other IM's out there, it is eminently usable and has some nifty UI features that the current crop don't offer. But it's not necessary to be a Hubbub user to read the book. It's just a nice side benefit for those who would like to give it a whirl.
In keeping with their overall ideas about good UI design, the book is very well organized, easy to read, and has several nice "GUI" features itself. You can tell that the authors themselves probably had a hand in how the book was put together. It is not overly long (about 300 pages), so it doesn't take several weeks to read. Nor is it written in a typical "computer textbook" style. There are plenty of pictures and figures that really help to demonstrate the various points the authors make. It also makes excellent use of color. But perhaps the best "feature" of this book is that it is peppered with "Design Guidelines", each of which sums up in a sentence or two an important aspect of good UI design. And, just to make it even easier, there is an appendix that brings all the design guidelines together in one location for easy reference later on.
Overall, this is an excellent treatment of a subject that probably causes more headaches for designers and engineers than any other in the world of software development. I highly recommend this book for any UI Designer, Software Engineer or Manager who wants to gain a better perspective on the issues involved in designing a user-friendly UI, and, even better, how to go about doing it right. I would not want to embark upon a UI-intensive project unless all parties involved had read this book beforehand.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Changing Standard Practice? 24 Jan. 2002
By Eric Berglund - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'm not an expert in either Interface Design or Programming Methodology, and I've only read a little bit in these areas. As I read this book, I found myself thinking: "You mean this approach isn't standard practice already?"
After reading Ellen and Alan's description of how a UI Designer and a Developer should interact with each other, it just seems so obvious that everyone should work this way. User needs should affect architecture, and technology constrains design--how hard can it be to understand that? But the implications--design and development are iterative, and ongoing user testing is critical to the iterative process--could change the way some people think about programming projects. (The old Specify, Design, Program, Test, Release process seems somewhat naive in retrospect.)
The book has a kind of fun and lively feel to it. It's clear that the authors were having fun telling their various stories, and were excited about illustrating their points. The writing is casual, which made it amazingly easy to read.
On the other hand, once the informal style sold me on the overall approach, I almost immediately wanted a more rigorous treatment. I'd have loved an Appendix that summarized the formats of the various documents, for instance, and perhaps one that reviews the process flow diagram used at the beginning of the later chapters. (As a former academic, I found myself wondering as well about the independence and completeness of the Design Guidelines, too, but that's my quirk. It's probably not an issue most readers would care about.)
I think this book could become one of those that inspires a sort of religious commitment to its vision, and that that would probably be a very good thing.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
All web and product designers should read this 4 Feb. 2002
By XiMiX - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has many examples of good and bad web pages and also consumer products. What it covers is seemingly obvious, but apparently not realized by many. It shows how users and designers can work together for optimal result. It should be a required reading for anyone doing user-interface designs. It is good that they actually have a good free product, HUBBUB ... .that was created using this design philosophy.
I didn't give it a 5-star only because, to me, the section of their HUBBUB experience and the conclusion was too long and could have been made more concise. Also, it was disappointing to see their product not following their own design goals well enough, which seemed to make the book less effective.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A book that wont simply collect dust on your bookshelf! 22 May 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I highly recommend this book as an invaluable resource for anyone currently in, or looking to enter, the instructional design field. The authors have successfully been able to present information, which can often be dry and complex, in a clear and easy to read format.
I have a read many books in this area and they have been a fantastic cure for insomnia. This on the other hand is a compelling read from start to finish. Many of the concepts presented will not be foreign to people that work in this field or in the area of product development. However the logical order and detailed examples work brilliantly to drive home the principles.
Publishers in this area should use this book as a bench mark for design and layout for its susinct and logical passage. Thank you very much Ellen and Allan for such a useful tool!
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