Book Review User Interface Design for Programmers
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Published: 23 Oct 2003
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Book review of User Interface Design for Programmers by Joel Spolsky
by Eric Landes
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Book Review of User Interface Design for Programmers by Joel Spolsky

This is an Apress book published in 2001. 

“User Interface Design for Programmers” (UIDP) is about common sense, which we developers sometimes forget.  The book is a compilation of the columns from the website  Even though you can find chapters 1 – 9 on his website, the book format is easier to read.  Also, you get 7 more chapters in the book! 

Joel Spolsky currently is the owner of Fog Creek software which produces among other things FogBugz software for bug tracking.  He also spent time as a developer on the Microsoft Excel team.

This book is intended for folks who are currently developers.  This is not a tutorial about UI design, but rather a reference for folks that could be used during the design phase.  Also, Joel doesn’t get into methodologies like UML, or RUP, but keeps the actual development process simple.  Since the book is more a compilation of columns, than a textbook, it is easy to read one chapter, walk away for a couple of days, read another one.

I found Chapter 4 Affordances and Metaphors particulary insightful.  Affordances are objects that make it clear to the user what they can do with the object.  A 3d push button is an affordance.  He mentions the Tabbed dialog box (originally from the Microsoft Excel group) as a great affordance also.  

The chapter goes on to point out real world examples of affordances and metaphors, both good and bad.  The number of examples is what helps when you try to translate this to your development project.

Chapter 8 and 9 are excellent points on what to expect from users.  Once again, Joel has great examples of how users interact with things (sometimes software).  He makes points on Designing programs for extremes, and in my mind the most important rule to remember, People can’t read.  That chapter should probably be stapled on all developers cube walls, since it is necessary to remember this.  Documentation is necessary, but most likely won’t be used. 

Chapter 12 on the Design Process contains good pointers on how you might create a User Interface from scratch.  He gives some great tips on how you might conduct your own usability tests, without the benefit of a Microsoft type lab.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for User Interface Design techniques.  This is not what I would call a book that would be your only resource.  This is a good reference to go back to during the design phase, to make sure you’re not making a mistake like some of those illustrated in the book.


Reviewed by Eric Landes

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