The Art of Interactive Design: A Euphonious and Illuminating Guide to Building Successful Software Paperback – 11 Dec 2002
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This book has the unique capability of crystalizing the key elements of interactivity (from a real-world standpoint) so that first year students are able to understand the overarching concepts (I use the book in my Interactive Multimedia classes). But, like any great book, it accomodates and grows along with the experience and knowledge of the reader. There is much to gain from Crawford's lucid, intriguing and well thought out text - and I recommend it to anyone interested in exploring the creation of artwork that incorporates or addresses interactivity.
Granted, a few of the chapters provide insight into smart design principles and distilling down what is essential to pleasing the end users, but books comprised of a few chapters don't sell very well in today's market of thicker-is-better tech books. Another annoying deception is the copyright date which shows 2003, yet the book is chock full of obviously outdated references such as the lack of web users with broadband and being able to watch full-motion video on your home computer "in the near future".
If you're looking for a Interaction cookbook- see Alan Cooper's about face 2.0 (isbn 0764526413), because this isn't that. Far from it. This is a book that seeks to stick an idea in your face and then get you to think about it rather than just spoon feeding you, like a good little pleb. Sure there's lashings of righteous indignation and condemnation aplenty (and given the state of some software it's not undeserved!) Again, provocation to think and construct mental arguments (or vocal if you're that way inclined) is not a bad thing. It's a very good thing: active learning is far more rewarding than passive acceptance.
So Chris Crawford relates his thoughts, ideas, feelings, hates and a thousand other things in a rather amorphous form in this book. While it is not tightly structured (very waffling in parts), I don't think that is suffers too much from that- indeed the lack of totally rigid form often enhances rather than debilitates (flexibility!). Though he can struggle to fully chase the tail of an idea: perhaps that is deliberate, leaving it up to us to do that. And sometimes his thoughts seem misguided, incomplete or just plain wrong or couched in language that makes it largely inaccessible to some (odd coming from somebody trying to engage reader that they would choose such a tactic that prevents engagement). And yes, at times, you do get the impression that you are being ranted at or this guy is trying to talk down to you (a thesaurus doesn't make you literate- the ability to 'speak' to your audience and have them understand is far more of a yardstick (oops, I should say 'metric' to be up on the vernacular) in that regard).
Content wise: there is a lot here that is of considerable importance. I particular like the chapter on 'Play', because as an educator (book he cites is Homo ludens: A study of the play element of a culture, Johan Huizinga), I agree whole heartedly with that and see that revealed in the mess some of my colleagues make of educating others by taking all of the fun/play out of it (I teach Mathematics and Physics). I also liked the simplicity yet depth of the 'speak-think-listen' notion. Too much nowadays it's all speak, little thought and no listen. And when that happens, we just MEGO (my eyes glaze over).
At times he struggles to idea of how he tries to pull this unwieldy construct he has built into a cohesive pile (it's a concept like a slippery pig- grab it just so and you're okay, change your hold just a little and it's off...). Some of it is unneccessary: the clock chapter, dedicated devices, history of interactivity, why learn programming. Some of it is belabored: particularly behaviors, linkmeshes, linguistics, erasmus. Yet, ironically enough, they still make the book a richer experience because they provide context. And this is important. So while is writing style may not be perfect, his approach has much merit. And I think the book works. It seeks to not only open your eyes to interactivity, but provide some philosophical underpinnings for adopting a proactive approach when trying to incorporate that into design mindset. In other words, it seeks to put interactivity at the center of the things you do, not as an add on.
And I think Chris Crawford does manage to get that message across (if a little self-importantly and in a stilted manner). I think, while his love of language is fairly obvious, his choices in this regard can be a little poor at times and self-aggrandizing, which can place barriers on your acceptance of his work. Just bear that in mind and factor some of the language and tone out, because if you do, I think you can get a lot from this book.
Sad to say, I was wrong. The book starts promisingly with CC talking about interactivity as conversation (listen, think, speak), but from there he meanders off on a host of barely related topics, talking at length about each one while rarely giving concrete examples (problems, solutions, issues, etc.). I know it's not supposed to be a cookbook of UI methods, but there has to be *something* to grab onto once in a while.
It's all hand waving, and it gets old fast. I forced myself to read to the end, to see if it improved, but it didn't. The only thing he's terse about is his own work (software for interactive storytelling), a potentially fascinating topic that he glosses over in 2 pages.
I read UI books with a highlighter, marking key ideas or examples that I want to return to later and think about. Usually this means a highlight every 10 pages or so. This book ended up with 3 marks in the first 50 pages, and nothing after that.
For me, at least, 99% of this book was a waste of time.
Still, there was at least one point I agreed with; interactivity (and, in general, providing value to the user) is more important than additional hanger-on features.
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