Designing Interfaces (Book review)

With more and more applications that would have been pure desktop applications a few years ago moving to the Web, an increasing number of web designers and developers are becoming application designers or developers. That can be a real challenge since interaction design for a traditional “read-only” website is quite different from the much higher level of interactivity involved in a Web application.

Web professionals who find themselves in that situation will need to learn more about interaction design and GUI design in order to make the Web applications they build usable and not just pretty and/or functional. One way of learning more about those subjects is to read Jenifer Tidwell’s excellent book Designing Interfaces.

Some books about usability or the design of user interfaces contain a lot of theoretical discussion and research. This book is different in that it is not as much about theory as it is about practical examples taken from real-world websites and applications, online and offline.

These examples, which make up most of the book, consist of design patterns, which are practical solutions to common interface design problems. This makes it Designing Interfaces work not just as a book to read from cover to cover, but also as a handy reference to turn to when you run into a certain problem.

The patterns are organised into different categories depending on their function. Some examples of the categories are content organisation, navigation, page layout, actions and commands, and forms.

Within each category, every pattern is described with at least one example in the form of a screenshot, and has advice on when, why, and how to use it. Any problems users might have interacting with that particular design pattern are also mentioned.

I find it very refreshing that a book that could have been completely focused on usability for the average user mentions accessibility issues repeatedly. Some of the patterns can easily lead to designers unfamiliar with accessibility creating something that is unusable for people with vision impairment, colour blindness or motor impairments, so it’s great to see potential problems with the patterns mentioned along with ways of making them accessible.

I think this is a really great book for anyone who works with designing and/or developing websites, Web applications, desktop applications – just about anything that includes a graphical user interface.

Designing Interfaces
Author: Jenifer Tidwell
ISBN-10: 0596008031
ISBN-13: 978-0596008031

Posted on September 26, 2007 in Reviews, Usability


  1. I bought this book some time ago…reading through it, it seems to have a good supply of patterns and best practices so far as designing user interfaces. Good material to keep handy when starting a new project.

  2. In my opinion very good position, and quite nice price ;) it helped me learn more about interaction design projects recommendable!

  3. Not a light and easy read by any means - I’ve had this book for months and can only get through a little bit at a time - but the content is great and it’s really well laid out.

    An invaluable resource for designers who need to lead, not follow, as it really challenges your approach.

  4. thanks for the heads up on this. i’ve been on the look out for an interface design book after reading some stuff by jeff raskin last year.

    are there any other books on this genre that people would recommend from the past few years?

  5. This is a good book. It’s worth every penny and more a must read.

  6. Lewis, Ambient Findability and Designing for Interaction are two other smart choices.

  7. thanks for those recommendations guys. the peter morville book ( definitely sounds the most interesting and i’m curious to how the part on GIS could relate to mashups. by rights he should have another book on the horizon soon.

    i’m planning to attempt one this year for my final degree project (i’m very daunted at the prospect right now).

    thanks again.

  8. September 30, 2007 by planetmcd

    I bought this book as well and I found it to be one of the hardest books to read that I’ve ever encountered. It’s not that the material is too dense, it’s that the layout and fonts are absolutely horrible. In my years of programming and study of literature, I’ve never encountered a publication that was this difficult to read. Because (to me) it’s such a bad interface, I can’t help but second guess the advice of the author. If she knows so much about them, why is the interface for their book terrible? The content I was able to get through seemed OK, but I gave up in frustration.

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