This was an unusual book for me to review, far removed from my comfort zone of developer environments and programming languages. This book is purely about human-computer interaction (HCI). It consists of 35 distinct essays, averaging about 15 pages each. There is very little connective material or editorial comment. Of the essays, 14 are all-new material for this 2018 second edition. The remaining chapters are reprints from the 2003 first edition, mostly updated with just light author notes.
This book is not directly relevant to my own work, and I’m not really qualified to say how these essays compare to others in the HCI genre. Nonetheless, I found the book interesting and many parts quite intriguing. I plan to introduce some of the ideas to the teams I manage.
I did find the new material more interesting than the older essays. Overall, they felt current and thought provoking. The older essays, from 2003, had a very different feel. They were typically more rigorous and foundational.
The first 14 chapters felt more playful and exploratory of new ideas. I especially benefited from the essay on using improv acting techniques to drive design sessions. Other topics in this part of the book include the difference between satisfaction and usability; low-res sketches; the different needs of new users and professionals; storybooking; and lighthearted design of various types.
From my outsider’s perspective, the latter part of the book was less interesting and felt somewhat dated. That said, it was fun to be reminded of what we all thought of web interactions back then, before iPhone or Android, YouTube, or Facebook, at the very dawn of massive multiplayer games or even near-universal connectivity. Topics in this half include finding ways to increase engagement or create user experiences; measuring emotions; testing games; building narrative experiences; and building virtual worlds.
This book does not offer any overarching themes, but it does give great exposure to a lot of clever design ideas and new ways of looking at the world. If you are interested in HCI or, like me, just want to escape from your comfort zone of pure tech into a playground of brilliant designers, this book is well worth reading.