Defensive Design for the Web: How to Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points: How to Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Online Crisis Points (Voices That Matter) Paperback – 2 Mar 2004
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From the Back Cover
Let's admit it: Things will go wrong online. No matter how carefully you design a site, no matter how much testing you do, customers still encounter problems. So how do you handle these inevitable breakdowns? With defensive design. In this book, the experts at 37signals (whose clients include Microsoft, Qwest, Monster.com, and Clear Channel) will show you how.
Defensive design is like defensive driving brought to the Web. The same way drivers must always be on the lookout for slick roads, reckless drivers, and other dangerous scenarios, site builders must constantly search for trouble spots that cause visitors confusion and frustration. Good site defense can make or break the customer experience.
In these pages, you'll see hundreds of real-world examples from companies like Amazon, Google, and Yahoo that show the right (and wrong) ways to get defensive. You'll learn 40 guidelines to prevent errors and rescue customers if a breakdown occurs. You'll also explore how to evaluate your own site's defensive design and improve it over the long term.
This book is a must read for designers, programmers, copywriters, and any other site decision-makers who want to increase usability and customer satisfaction.
About the Author
Chicago-based 37signals (www.37signals.com) is a team of web design and usability specialists dedicated to simple, and usable, customer-focused design. 37signals popularized the concept of contingency/defensive design in various articles and white papers and via the web site DesignNotFound.com. The team also has conducted workshops and presentations on the topic for a variety of conferences and companies.
37signals clients include Microsoft, Qwest, Monster.com, Clear Channel, Panera Bread, Meetup, Performance Bike, and Transportation.com. Work has been featured in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Washington Post, on CNN, and in numerous other publications. Team members have appeared as featured speakers at AIGA Risk/Reward, Activ8, South By Southwest, HOW Design Conference, ForUse, and other conferences. Additional information can be found at www.37signals.com.This book is authored by Matthew Linderman with Jason Fried. Other members of the 37signals team include Ryan Singer and Scott Upton.
Top customer reviews
In the book, there were no solid examples of what we should definitely do or not do, and using advice from the sites given a thumbs-up was not necessarily a great idea because the ratings were inconsistant: on page 62 nordstrom.com were given a thumbs down for specifying the format of user-inputted telephone numbers (no hypens or spaces) and yet on page 69, expedia.com and etrade.com were given a thumbs up for doing exactly the same thing (stating that social security numbers must contain the hypens). If nordstrom must accept telephone numbers in multiple formats, surely etrade should do the same with SS numbers?
One of the most annoying things about the entire book was the constant use of the incorrect term "alt tags". Tags are surrounded by < and >, alt is not, therefore alt is an attribute. This is the kind of basic HTML-related stuff that I would expect an 'expert' web-based company such as 37signals to know. What's more, there was an entire chapter dedicated to the lack of alt "tags" on various websites, and yet no clear instructions on what good alt text should say.
Throughout the entire book there was only one teensy-tiny paragraph on international forms and the need to accept multiple types of data, and yet this book is sold worldwide. America is not the only country in the world and so I would have liked to have seen more advice offered for those who're unsure on how to approach forms for a larger audience (particularly as I'm a Brit myself).
Overall, despite the varying negative points, the book itself is relatively decent. It brought up some little things that I have missed on my own website, such as, what to do if a visitor returns 0 results from a search (i.e. offer suggestions/alternatives instead), but generally contained nothing but screenshots. I would have liked to have seen more specific advice, and a little less focus on American based websites/forms.
However, this book has far too little substance to be worth anything like its cover price. It glosses over the problems of forms, particularly those to be filled in by non-Americans, and the rest is just too light. This information would be far better presented on a website or as a free to download e-book. Absolutely not worth the money - there are far better usability books out there.
Indeed, all this book does is list commonly known mistakes, which would perhaps be interesting for the total novice, yet, it provides zero solutions.
Four major things are wrong with this book:
1) Most of the advice is truly gratuitous, like â€œGuideline 6: Keep text brief and easy to understandâ€�, or â€œGuideline7: Be politeâ€�, or â€œGuideline18: Use ALT tags for imagesâ€� or â€œGuideline 24: Answer emails quickly and effectively. That is stating the obvious like â€œcheck your spellingâ€�. Yes, they advice this as well.
2) Only a small part of the book deals with international issues and most part only applies to local American websites with local target groups. A lot of the examples of websites they approve of, wouldn't stand a change when a Frenchman, Italian, Arab, etc. visits. This book gives an all but global perspective on accessibility.
3) Some design rules they propose are actually very debatable at least. Moreover, quite a few guidelines contradict each other.
4) They mention some major problems like; missing 404 pages, lacking form validation, etc. Yet â€" and this is absolutely inexcusable â€" abide from some screen shots, they provide no real solutions, you are totally left in the dark.
So, after 236 mostly empty pages all they have told me that it is better to have a better website.
37signals' book throws its readers straight in there, no messing about: screen grabs of sites, pointing out the bad design decisions and highlighting the good. Simply laid out, 37signals' book allows the examples to speak for themselves, adding just enough information to back up their reasoning and no more.
Peppered throughout the book are a selection of "head-to-head" comparisons: on the left-hand page, a site that makes a fundamental mistake; on the right, a competitor that gets it right.
This book can't make a bad designer a good one. But if you're a good designer, it will help you improve no end.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
It's too bad that this book (on design, of all things) had to be presented in such a cheap-looking book. The heavy black sections of the chapter headings are washed out, and the text inside the graphics (e.g., dialog boxes, pull-down menus) is hard to read. The book text itself is easy enough to read. In all, the whole thing was obviously produced on a printer that uses some sort of toner (and not enough of it!), rather than good old traditional offset printing.
In all, the book is still worth reading, and I'd still recommend it. It's just a little disappointing that one of my favorite reasons for buying dead-tree versions of books--the look and feel of the book itself--is a little lacking with this one.
The authors provide adequate examples of the right and not-quite-right ways websites handle the specific issues they discuss.
A helpful supplement to this book would be a "Hands On" practical guide with code examples and resources for implementing methods they discuss. For example, the authors suggest highlighting fields on a web form when the user inputs incorrect data. While there are numerous ways to implement this and many on-line resources, it would be helpful to know how the authors (a.k.a., the experts) prefer to implement these techniques.
If you're a novice or intermediate website developer, you'll find this book enlightening. If you're an experienced developer with some familiarity and practice with web usability principles, you may not learn anything new from the book, but nonetheless it will provide a good "refresher course." If you're involved in marketing/selling website development services, you should read this book because it will help you to build a case for improving existing websites.
I agree with some of the reviewers that it is very basic - but most people don't get the basics right! It's entertaining and enlightening and will quickly get you on the right path to providing a better user experience.
If you're more of a beginner, this book should be required reading. It covers lots of good info in a very easy to understand way.
This book does not delve into technical details, only usability principles and ideas. It's a short, easy read and will inspire you to create more usable websites.
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