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Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design (Hardcover)

Everything they never taught me at art school
Customer rating 4.0/5.0
10 Feb 2009 By A. Slater "al"
3 out of 3 found this helpful

At long last, something about making designs actually WORK in real life. Books and courses that inspire and show cutting edge trends and styles are great, but they shouldn't be the only thing.

Buy this book if you want practical, solid, tried and tested, timeless wisdom that apply equally to eye-catching posters, car dashboards, beautiful artworks, office building layouts, websites, instruction manuals and in fact anything else that is ever used by a human being.

Don't buy it if you think that design books must never be more than "Here's what I think was high fashion a few months ago".

This book is almost everything I was disappointed not to be told at art school. It's practical, straight to the point, tried and tested principles that work. Most are properly scientifically tested, and some are built out of science first, then adapted into artistic principles that have since been shown to work.

Note 'principles', not 'techniques'. An important thing to know about this book is you need to think hard and fast to get the most out of it. This book does NOT patronise you by telling you how to do your job - it doesn't even presume to know what your job is. It gives you the facts, what each principle is, what the evidence/theory/background to the idea is, a few proven tips and pointers to get you thinking, and then gives a few illustrated examples. It's up to you to work out whether it applies and how to apply it to the job in hand.

Here's an example of one of my favourites, p38-39, 'Color'. It's a neat, crisp double page spread that explains the useful bits of colour theory in plain English. On the left, there's 5 simple, clear paragraphs. #1 explains very briefly why colour is important and useful (handy for designers like architects or product engineers who normally focus on form). #2 quickly explains why and when to limit colours. #3 quickly explains colour wheels, what colour combinations are known to work, and a couple of tips on using warm & cool colours and grey. #4 gives advice on how saturated and desaturated colours are perceived and what impressions they create. #5 quickly explains that other colour associations are cultural, not universal. Finally it tells you the best books to read if you need more technical detail. That's it. No technical stuff you don't need, no patronising instructions or statements of the obvious, just the most practical of the known facts. On the right, there are illustrations with colour wheels showing what different combinations, saturations and warm/cool colours look like, with a few examples of colour schemes in nature. Everything in the book is a double-page spread like this, facts on the left, examples on the right.

A good opposite example is p94-95, 'Garbage-in, Garbage-out'. It covers common problems that lead to people putting input in wrongly, learned the hard way by computer interface designers. It's obvious how these are valuable and practical if you design human-machine interfaces, to stop small mistakes ruining the system. It's also still relevant for communication designs like graphics, albeit less critical - it draws your attention to common mistakes and slips people make, so you can be sharper at identifying and pre-empting possible misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

I've given the book 4/5 because although the idea is brilliant and much needed, and although the execution is very good, and I'd really recommend buying it, there is still some room for improvement. Some examples are repeated, some examples although still useful were a bit out of date even when the book was published in 2003, and although most of the 100 are really good, a few don't quite deserve inclusion and a few are a bit specific to one trade. Also, they had a brilliant idea for a 'categorical' contents page, with principles listed by design challenge (e.g. things to do with appeal, things to do with guiding learning, etc), but it's not as well executed or useful as it could be.

Brilliant book, worth buying, and massive value for money considering the value you'll get out of it. Hopefully there'll be a 2nd edition soon that'll be even better, but don't wait for it. You'd be happy with a course that cost thousands of pounds, if it taught you everything there is in this book.



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