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The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems [Paperback]

Jef Raskin
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Mar 2000 9780201379372 978-0201379372 1

The honeymoon with digital technology is over: millions of users are tired of having to learn huge, arcane programs to perform the simplest tasks; fatigued by the pressure of constant upgrades, and have had enough of system crashes. In The Humane Interface, Jef Raskin -- the legendary, controversial creator of the original Apple Macintosh project -- shows that there is another path. Raskin explains why today's interface techniques lead straight to a dead end, and offers breakthrough ideas for building systems users will understand -- and love. Raskin reveals the fundamental design failures at the root of the problems so many users experience; shows how to understand user interfaces scientifically and quantitatively; and introduces fundamental principles that should underlie any next-generation user interface. He introduces practical techniques designers can use to improve their productivity of any product with an information-oriented human-machine interface, from personal computers to Internet appliances and beyond. The book presents breakthrough solutions for navigation, error management, and more, with detailed case studies from Raskin's own work. For all interface design programmers, product designers, software developers, IT managers, and corporate managers.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Addison Wesley; 1 edition (29 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780201379372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201379372
  • ASIN: 0201379376
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.8 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 178,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Aptly subtitled "New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems", The Humane Interface is essentially an introduction to a new school of the craft of semiotics. Although the author doesn't use this specific term, The Human Interface, the book explores the intelligent design of efficient signs and symbols for the "conversation" between man and computer. The book deals with many types of conceptual devices we use, both to find our way to a piece of data or program function, and to set parameters for searches or other commands, investigating the various strategies used, evaluating them and proposing new, more powerful yet less complicated interfaces.

The author introduces new tactics for communicating information, both inward to and outward from a computer--but does not confine this overview to computers. Also under inspection are leads and displays on digital tools such as the oscillograph and the dials of technological commonplaces like the VCR that graces your living room.

For the person who has never broached the subject this is a great introduction to a field that badly needs a shake-up, and in the meantime it delivers some well-placed blows. Replete with criticisms and case studies of bad examples (as if they were needed), this book offers real solutions for designers of tomorrow, demonstrating how fresh ideas can be applied to simplify yet simultaneously enhance the interface between people and digital machines. If you've spent a frustrating afternoon reassigning cable or satellite stations to desired channels with the woeful interface usually provided, you'll immediately see the practical value of this refreshing book. --Wilf Hey

From the Back Cover

"Deep thinking is rare in this field where most companies are glad to copy designs that were great back in the 1970s. The Humane Interface is a gourmet dish from a master chef. Five mice!"
--Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group
Author of Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity

This unique guide to interactive system design reflects the experience and vision of Jef Raskin, the creator of the Apple Macintosh. Other books may show how to use today's widgets and interface ideas effectively. Raskin, however, demonstrates that many current interface paradigms are dead ends, and that to make computers significantly easier to use requires new approaches. He explains how to effect desperately needed changes, offering a wealth of innovative and specific interface ideas for software designers, developers, and product managers.

The Apple Macintosh helped to introduce a previous revolution in computer interface design, drawing on the best available technology to establish many of the interface techniques and methods now universal in the computer industry. With this book, Raskin proves again both his farsightedness and his practicality. He also demonstrates how design ideas must be built on a scientific basis, presenting just enough cognitive psychology to link the interface of the future to the experimental evidence and to show why that interface will work.

Raskin observes that our honeymoon with digital technology is over: We are tired of having to learn huge, arcane programs to do even the simplest of tasks; we have had our fill of crashing computers; and we are fatigued by the continual pressure to upgrade. The Humane Interface delivers a way for computers, information appliances, and other technology-driven products to continue to advance in power and expand their range of applicability, while becoming free of the hassles and obscurities that plague present products.



0201379376B07092001

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, loses track in places 15 Jan 2002
By A. Reid
Format:Paperback
Jef Raskin presents a good overview of human machine interaction issues in the first few chapters. His superb coverage of interface modes, habit-formation, locus of attention and various worked quantitative analysis methods to measure interaction makes this book well worth its while alone... These are topics which are rarely covered this well.
I feel that the author loses focus slightly when he starts to talk about how he would implement a new computer interface. Without good examples, screenshots or user-reports from an implementation of these ideas we are largely left with the author's lengthy textual explananations which are sometimes hard to follow. It seems like the author is trying to make up for having the Macintosh project taken away from him. Constantly referring back to the dated "Canon Cat" which was a project he worked on, gets a bit tiresome; it would have been nice to see more modern applications of the authors ideas, many of which are extremely interesting (the ideas presented explain why nearly everyone finds Windows 2000's "adaptive" menus annoying). Despite this, the book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in human machine / human computer interfaces.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is both intriguing and arresting along a number of different dimensions. From the outset it is presented as one man's views, some idiosyncratic, of where things have gone wrong, and how things can be put right, in principle. It attempts to develop and assess a methodology (more of a series of heuristics)for human computer interaction by grounding the fundamental principles in aspects of cognitive theory, philosophy and even aesthetics. While many other texts recount the mechanics of HCI very directly, Raskin's reflections approach the various issues indirectly. Given the author's experience one would expect it to be a very competent text, but it goes beyond that and becomes a critical text with its own internal dialectic. And this is its major interest and significance - at times it reads as if assembled by a contintental philosopher of textual analysis. Raskin's central tenet is that interaction is more subtle than we have allowed for, and he sets off producing several singular examples of very poor design to illustrate the point. Peculiarly for a book that is clearly ergonomic in orientation and emphasis, it really only focuses on the GOMS model as the main method for pyschometric assessment of an interface. Also the book does not lay out a stall of the various task analysis methodologies that have evolved over the past twenty years. The book is not a 'how to' manual rather it is is an attempt at a 'philosophy of how to'. At this juncture, with increasing emphasis on multimodal interfaces,Raskin's book may be that bit more useful in the long run than the many alternatives.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I bought this book as recommended reading for my degree course in computer science. I found it to be self serving as the author promotes his own work and insults other work. The author compares his idea against some already implemented device, but he always finds a way of making this device inefficient. To be honest i have not found this book to be any help at all.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  59 reviews
71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A practical, insightful leap forward, a must-read 9 April 2000
By Thomas J. Atwood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I recommend this book wholeheartedly and not only for the marketplace that includes application designers and web page developers, but also for the many who may be curious about the fundamentals of human-computer interaction. The book succeeds in providing a basic education in interface design principles. For me, an editorial director in magazine publishing working with a growing web department, the book was fascinating and stimulating. I now recognize interface elements that work well, or that do not, much more ably.
The book describes a set of elements that coalesce into a next-generation interface that could revolutionize the way people use computers. Jef does a brilliant job reducing quantification of interface activity to readily understandable terms. And for those who want a deeper, philosophic, scientific look, Jef very briefly delves into information theory to show how to evaluate the ultimate efficiency of drop down menus, error messages, and the like.
Jef has done an enormous amount of research and credits countless pioneers and researchers. His colorful and interesting sidebars and eclectic appendices are interesting side trips. Jef's work is an eloquent, humble, and inspirational salute to current knowledge that awaits implementation. But it is also a primer for every web page developer, every editor working with web page developers, and every application or operating system designer out there. Offering many practical insights, this book lucidly pursues the humane where computers and human lives are becoming ever more entwined.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not 'New Directions' but valuable; annoying in places 5 Sep 2000
By David P. Bishop - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book doesn't really contain "New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems" like it says on the cover. In fact, Jef's directions for designing interactive systems mostly revolve around his designs for the Canon Cat, which date from 1984-1987. Different, and a departure from what's become the norm (the WIMP, or Windows Icons Menus Pointers graphical user interface), but not new.
Readers may be annoyed by Jef's continued insistence throughout the book that the Cat contained such wonderfully efficient interface ideas, but there are some solid ideas presented. Highlights of this book include Raskin's introduction and description of Locus of Attention (approximately: involuntary focus), which may be as important for designers to consider as users' conscious focus. The concept of 'monotony' in interfaces is also interesting to consider as Raskin describes it, because he asserts this is a path that allows users to form efficient automaticity and focus on tasks rather than the interface. Also, chapter 4 includes an overview of GOMS analysis that does a good job of bringing it out of the academic esoteric realm into a place where more interaction designers will consider using it for commercial projects. Raskin's heuristics for good interaction design are spread throughout the book (would have been nicer if they were all corralled into one place for reference), but Appendix B comes close to summarizing them -- it is a document from Alzofon and Raskin's 1985 SwyftCard design.
Low points of the book include Raskin's annoying, overly specific notation for keystrokes that he uses throughout, the lecturing tone, the tedium of chapter five, and the goofy quantitative modality measure he proposes in chapter three.
163 of 194 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Outside the box" isn't the same thing as "good" 19 Mar 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found a lot to disagree with in this book. Mr. Raskin recommends that we dispense with GUI fluff that obscures more than it illuminates (not necessarily a bad idea) and replace it with a system in which your content IS the interface. While typing this review, for instance, I could type the word SAVE, select the word SAVE, and invoke a command to interpret the selected word as a command, thus saving the text to disk. Or type EMAIL (right here in the middle of this sentence!), select the command (and somehow also select the sentence), and tap a key to send the sentence off as an email. Or I can type an arithmetic expression into my text and evaluate it on the fly (which as we all know, most users need to do urgently and often). Truly out-there stuff, and I think that's admirable, but I also think it's wrong. Many of the book's proposed computing paradigms are based on the notion that most files are text files, when in reality, at least in today's systems, only a tiny percentage of files contain human-readable text. We've got applications, MP3s, video, pointers to content, content we've made ourselves, content from other sources. These data are different, and cannot all be tossed into a homogeneous soup and treated as text.
Moreover, the book has some "bugs" which limit its own useability. Mr. Raskin makes dozens of references to a product he designed and extols, the Canon Cat, but never actually explains what it is. I know that it lets users manage files without having to name them (interesting) but I don't know what kind of files they're making, so I can't decide whether this is a good idea. The book does not offer even a single screentshot of this device. Same goes for Swyftware, another oft-cited product with which the author assumes we are familiar, when we are not (Google reports only 7 references on the Web). Instead of showing us pictures these paragons of design in action, the book devotes precious glossy color plates to a gallery of black & white icons, a Windows menu bar, a photo of a grey radio and other illustrations in which color is meaningless.
In this book Mr. Raskin is really thinking, and he does back up his ideas with (talk of) empirical data. And as someone who has developed both hardware and software, he is not afraid to propose alternative input devices and new keys added to the keyboard. That's interesting stuff. But so many ideas just seem wrong. I don't think people want their computer to process keypresses while it is asleep. I don't think people are suffering for lack of a quicker way to enter a Carriage Return character into a search & replace dialog. And I don't think people want to have to learn a command-line interface and then type up their own menus (suffering through syntax errors in the process) to attain the convenience of a GUI. It's a novel book, but I won't recomment it on that basis alone.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fundamentals and Futurist speculation 15 Feb 2002
By Bob Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Raskins' "The Humane Interface" is cut from the same cloth as Alan Cooper's "About Face", Jeff Johnson's "GUI Bloopers", and Bruce Tognazzini's "Tog on Interface". I prefer Johnson's books to the others due to its thoroughness, even-handedness and case-study orientation. As in Cooper's and Tognazzini's books, many of Raskin's recommendations are tried and true, whereas others are much more speculative.
Raskin thoroughly grounds his book in cognitive theory, which for a cognitive scientist like me, is highly refreshing. Others might not appreciate the theory as much, but this is clearly the meat of the science of UI design. But this is not a book on cognitive psychology, so it quickly moves on to discuss "cognetics", which he describes as the ergonomics of the mind. Like most UI designers, Raskin has semantic qualms with the term "intuitive", but introduces "affordances" as a stand-in. An affordance is simply something that's familiar from your earlier experiences. Combined with "visibility", they form the backbone of easy-to-use-out-of-the-box UI design. Raskin quite rightly denies the zero-sum nature of design for novice versus design for experts, claiming you can build well for both by following the domain. There's an excellent discussion of Fitt's Law, which predicts how long it will take to land a mouse on a screen object based on size and distance. I also appreciated the clear explanation of the GOMS keystroke model and his subsequent application of information theory to the design of a farenheit-celsius converter.
Getting more concrete, Raskin delivers the obligatory rant against modes. In a novel twist, he then introduces a nifty notation of the elementary actions of today's GUI's (mouse down, key clicks, selection, mouse movement, etc.), which brings him much closer to the engineering side of interface design than any of the competing books. There is an excellent description of in-text search, using emacs (the text editor of choice for the world's programmers) as an example. The section on commands and transformers, the basis of the Unix operating system and software design within it, indicate that emacs wasn't the only thing Raskin picked up before he designed the Mac UI.
I was completely unconvinced by Raskin's radical suggestions for redesigning (really discarding) the notion of file. I can't imagine making his concept of LEAP work in practice. I'm not even sure I understood the description. I was equally unimpressed by his "Zoomworld" suggestions for navigation.
"The Humane Interface" doesn't break much new ground, but its solid foundations and smattering of sharp insights make it a worthwhile edition to any UI designer's bookshelf.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every computer programmer should read this book! 28 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I can not over-emphasize how absolutely important it is for everyone involved in the design or programming of computer software--no matter how big or how small--to read this book. Even designers of non-computer interfaces, like for steroes or vcrs, would benefit from reading it.
The book doesn't just explain the dos and don'ts of interface design--it also clearly explains the WHYS, by going into the psychology of the human mind and explaining interface design from that standpoint.
It is true that the book goes outside the realm of currently-used computer systems, and introduces ideas that can't immediately be put to good use. But that is necessary to get a complete picture of the concepts. (Not to mention the help that it might give to someone who decides to go about designing an all-new computer or operating system of his or her own. This is a hint for all you inventors out there.)
And it isn't just the individual ideas themselves. After finishing the book, I began to have an all-new way of thinking about programming; a whole new attitude which is helping me with some of the projects I'm currently working on. A creative mind can think of many new ideas based on the general concepts presented here, other than the specific things that Raskin mentions.
The book is, for the most part, very pleasant to read (a page-turner!) and focused on the concepts. Very professionally done.
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