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on 24 February 2017
I’m with simple
The move towards beautiful and elegant online user experiences is simplicity, and Nic Ricketts is beguiled.

Simple and usable – web, mobile and interaction design
by Giles Colborne
208pp, New Riders

Like Steve Krug’s seminal Don’t make me think, this book is a slim volume, and rightly so for a primer on how to eschew obfuscation and deliver more from less.

But while Krug’s book is full of humorous ‘ahah’ moments, Giles Colborne’s Simple and usable takes a more forensic view of user expectations and perceptions. In this sense it shows just how far online marketing has matured in the 11 years since Krug’s book was published in its first edition. But equally, how so little has changed in our understanding of the way people buy, behave and interact online.

Colborne splits the task of creating simplicity – and in so doing, enhancing usability in web design - into four strategies entitled Remove, Organise, Hide and Replace. To illustrate how this works he redesigns a physical item we’re all familiar with, the DVD remote.

This immediately hits the right tone. For anyone like me who never resorts to RTFM (Reading The F*****g Manual), the intense frustration DVD devices cause me – and continue to cause me – has almost resulted in violence, albeit directed at inanimate objects. It’s always when you’re in a hurry, caught on the hop, or late for an appointment that you remember to record something and find yourself in a real pickle dealing with the vagaries of an AV equipment designer’s mind. The upshot and thought bubble hanging over you reads ‘But why won’t you let me do that?’

It’s the same with websites. It seems developers can’t help themselves adding more features or bells and whistles that work against user immersion in the online world. This is probably because of a disconnect between specifiers, designers and developers. While most savvy online retailers have usually got the user experience nailed, their aspirations for online behaviour is controlled by branding and routes to market. But in the B2B world the call-to-action is not so pointed or obvious.

Reading Colborne’s words about complexity I was reminded of those terrible PowerPoint presentations we’ve all sat through where the amount of data on each slide was almost a firing offence. Many sites still overcomplicate, or frustrate your flow, forcing you to make unnecessary choices. More importantly, working against their own business objectives.

Colborne distinguishes between different types of user, breaking them down into Experts, Willing adopters and Mainstreamers, and describing their attitude to technology and the motivations that drive them. He takes anecdotal examples from the likes of Apple and Pixar, and the way these companies think laterally about the user experience.

It’s clear that putting yourself at the user’s POV is key but users don’t buy on intuition alone, you still have to lead them to make the decisions you want them to make. Simple enough you’d think, but where the book shines is in telling you how to do that – in a clean way - without appearing condescending or controlling. Colborne manages to make his points with a lightness of touch that can be directly applied online.

Simple and usable is required reading for anyone involved in - or interested in - web design and usability, and that’s pretty much anyone with a browser at the end of a broadband connection. I read it at one sitting and just let Colborne’s engaging – and unarguably persuasive - prose flow into me.

This tightly written insightful book will get you thinking about your own site, and the sites of your customers. But, more than that, it might even lead you to simplify a lot more in your business interactions, whether they are with partners, suppliers or customers.
About Nic Ricketts…
Nic Ricketts has 25 years marketing experience and has run two successful advertising and integrated marketing agencies. He now heads up a brand consultancy – 1st Objective Ltd - specialising in optimising marketing services to support business objectives and create sales growth.
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VINE VOICEon 23 November 2010
As you would expect from a book that preaches simplicity and usability in design, this is a very attractive book: well laid-out, uncluttered and with no waffle.

As another reviewer has noted, this is not a text book full of densely-packed detail. I have seen one of them years ago. It was a book on human-computer interfaces that was about two inches thick, with tiny text and a few black and white diagrams and screenshots in it. Look up the word 'daunting' in a dictionary and there would probably just be a picture of that book.

This takes a different approach and is more like a manifesto than a text book. The most striking aspect of the book is the layout which has each double-page spread comprising a left-hand page of text and a right-hand page that is a full-page illustration. At first I thought this could mean a paucity of content, but soon realised that it works very well, keeping one idea per page makes it a lot easier to absorb what is there. I suspect this means a reader could easily retain more information from this book than from one with 10 times as many words but less attention to design.

I read the book in a couple of sittings, but it just as easily lends itself to dipping in and reading individual pages in isolation because they are largely self-contained, though also part of an overall structure, if that makes sense.

There are plenty of real-life examples to demonstrate the concepts in the box as well as a recurring example of a hypothetical DVD remote control to anchor each stage of the structure to something that is easy to identify with.

One real-life example is the Telewest PVR box (which has now become the Virgin Media V+ box). I have one of those so was able to easily confirm the wisdom of that particular page. A recurring example is the Flip video camera from Cisco which the author holds up as a supreme example of simplicity and usability. I have subsequently used one and found that it really is that easy, giving me even more confidence in the validity of the precepts of this book.

In fact, having now experienced the Flip, I think the best way to sum up this book is to say it is the written equivalent of the Flip - it knows what it wants to do, and doesn't risk diluting that purpose by adding anything unnecesary for the sake of it. Yes it is a slim volume, but it is as long as it needs to be and would not be improved by adding lots of padding.
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on 17 October 2010
This book is a delight. Everything about it is Simple and Usable - the layout, the beautiful illustrations, and the text.

It asks why every device we come into contact can't feel simple and usable. But it doesn't just preach this as an aim. It sets out to show what we can do to achieve it, as well as looking at what can get in our way.

It's packed with moments where you read and shout out "Of course, why didn't I think of that?" or "I'd totally forgotten that, I know how I can apply that straight away". A key piece for me was the section about designing for the mainstream rather than for expert users. And the section suggesting you describe what you want to change as a story or vision was very valuable.

It is a very practical book. Using four strategies: remove, organise, hide and displace is an excellent way to go about thinking of a redesign, and the idea is backed up with lots of examples of how to think about and implement these strategies. I can see this is a book I will return to again to deal with specific questions.

My only criticism of the book is the lack of bibliography. I would have loved to have recommendations for further reading

This book has a lovely personal tone, making it clear the author is experienced, knows what he is talking about, but he uses anecdotes to illustrate points rather than to show how clever he is. I'd recommend Simple and Usable to anyone involved in physical or digital product design. But it is also a great read for anyone frustrated by the complexity of current devices, who wonders how they could be improved.
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on 20 October 2010
I read this book from cover to cover on a return flight from holiday recently. Having previously worked with Giles, I was of course expecting great things... however, I can say that on this occasion my expectations were surpassed. The only thing that I was disappointed with was that I wasn't armed with a highlighter and page markers, because almost every page had a tip that I wanted to put into action, or a phrase I wanted to quote. My company has its own website, I've worked in technology marketing for many years, and we provide digital marketing advice to numerous small businesses. This book has given me sound advice and compelling language to help my clients give their customers much better online (or remote interface) experiences. I will also be putting the powerful advice into action on our own site immediately. The style and format also lives up to its own title. The simple language is a breath of fresh air, and the layout of text and supporting image was just right for keeping me interested and inspired. I'm already looking forward to reading it again, armed with a to-do list!
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on 2 October 2010
In "Simple and Usable", the author successfully compacts what seems like 10 or 15 years' experience at the sharp end of creating digital interfaces into a series of easy-to-read, bite-size chunks. Highly relevant and motivational, the book is written in an insightful and informal style with many quotable passages and enlightening anecdotes.

Featuring lots of clearly articulated examples and case studies, the book brings together research and latest thinking from a wide range of disciplines including human computer interaction, marketing, psychology and behavioural economics.

Using as it's core 4 different strategies of simplicity - "Remove, Organise, Hide, Displace" - the book gets to the crux of many of the key challenges of organising and presenting information via digital media, most of which will be familiar both to those new to UX design and seasoned pros.

Furthermore, this book practices what it preaches; it's easy to digest, beautifully designed and illustrated, and refreshingly free of clutter, opaque theory and philosophical pondering.

Best of all, reading the book is like having an angelic conscience sitting on your shoulder telling you not *what* to do, but how to *approach* a design issue. This is it's real value and in my view it's something that's pretty unique.

All of this adds up to what I think is one of the most inspiring books on usability and user experience design written to date.

If you've read and enjoyed Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think", then you need this book to take you and your team to the next level.
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on 13 January 2011
This is the one of the most productive books I've ever read! Not only does the layout of each page justify the book's title but the content is quite mind blowing. It fundamentally teaches us logic behind creating a product - whether it be a Flip camera or a banking website.

For everything we feel as 'easy' to navigate, there are phenomenally talented people who strive to ensure our experience is simple. This can make the difference between an incredibly successful product or a huge failure i.e. does the user feel in control because they understand how the product works? Can they recommend this to their friends because they can explain it as simply as they understood it themselves? Just these questions alone can make or break a company's revenue.

Simple & Usable is ultimately a perfect bible for anyone who is genuinely interested in understanding our brain patterns, cognitive tools and what truly makes us gravitate towards products or services.

I highly recommend everyone read this to gain simple knowledge on elevating their own creativity and the potential we can achieve as a result. It's simply making our subconscious...conscious!
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on 15 November 2010
More books like these... it's good to see the "Simple and Usable" approach used on the books themselves. "Eat your own dog food", we can say. This is a really clear and concise book, you'll get 2 pages for each technique, one of them is a full color photo. The content is really good, just don't look for in depth analysis or case studies. These are along with the books from A Book Apart (not available through amazon), the new generation of books that are really good, simple and easy to read. It's all there, they just cut through the clutter to present you what is really important. Go grab it if you're serious about UX and UI.
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on 23 November 2014
This book stays true to its primary theme - simplicity. In a world filled with complex and thick tomes it would be easy to underestimate the value of this book. If you play any role in product design, read this book, and reread it every time you start a new feature, or a new product.
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on 21 October 2010
Let's be clear: this is a very short book. It's not going to teach you tons of stuff about how to create a better product. It's not a textbook.

What it is: pared-down, thought-provoking, beautiful.

When I picked it up, my first thought was 'lovely' and my second was 'is that it?'. It didn't seem weighty enough to have that much of an impact.

As I read it, I realise that there's a lot more insight in it than the size implies. Giles has worked really hard to pare this down to a few simple messages that you can act on straight away.

Yes, you can read it all in a (fairly short) train or plane ride. I did that, but I found that I kept stopping to reflect on ideas in the book and how I wanted to use them, or challenge myself to use them, in various projects. I'll come back to it, both to read through and to dip in now and then when I need a little thoughtful inspiration.

Definitely recommended.
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on 21 March 2013
Small, easy to read and dip into but I read half in one go,and been passing it round colleagues in my java development team and plan to buy a team copy and one for my wife. Its style reminds me a little of Sun Tzu (pretentious? moi?) in that it works hard to make each point briefly and simply. The more you understand the less you have to memorize.
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