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Rereading About Face by Alan Cooper

About Face 4th Edition, the Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin, and Christopher Noessel.

Many years ago an interviewer asked me who my influences are. My answer was pretty lame. He generously gave me a list of books to read. I read them and dozens more. Three particular books formed the foundation of my design principles and career.

  • Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman made me want to be a designer as my career.
  • Emotional Design, also by Don Norman showed me the kind of designer I wanted to be. Empathetic and original.
  • And finally, About Face taught me how to do actually do the job.

When I originally read these books, they were a revelation to me. I have always been pretty good at designing interfaces, but these books gave me a vocabulary and brought forth ideas which I have used ever since.

In my mission to hire 7 designers this year, I have been looking for a particular style in the designers I speak to. To help create more people with this style, I suggested to MANY of the candidates to read About Face cover to cover. My team heard me talking about it so much that they asked to form a book club together and read it as a team.

Therefore, I put on my new reading glasses (yes, Im old now) and started re-reading. When I read About Face the first time (15 years ago), I blogged about every chapter. Now, I will likely do the same, but I will include extra details that were omitted from the book. Often they will be counter-examples or the hidden gotchas of that topic.

Chapter 1 was basically a summary of the whole book so I will skip it.

Chapter 2: Design Research

Rule #1: If you don’t understand the details, you won’t design it right.

Glen Lipka, 2010

Research is somewhat of a sacred cow. Most people get very antsy about any negative criticism of research. I think this is unfortunate because there are real issues one has to deal with. For example:

  1. You don’t ALWAYS need to do qualitative research. Adding a minor feature to an existing object just needs to be consistent and coherent. User testing or research is overkill.
  2. Research is often used by executives to support their pre-existing ideas. They cherry pick the data they want and ignore data that doesn’t support their narrative.
  3. Design teams are often not trusted to be great at their jobs and research is not a way to turn a bad designer into a good one.

I don’t want to overdo my critique. About Face does a good job of explaining what types of research there are and what the purpose is. Designers in the field will need to learn how it affects theirs specific environment.

1 reply on “Rereading About Face by Alan Cooper”

Hi Glen, this is Yumei again. It has been about 8 months since you interviewed me for a UX desigin position at Treasure Data. You recommended me this book and I found myself has been taken so much from it. Thank you and thanks Alan Cooper. It’s such a treasure to an early professional like me.
I’m on chapter 17 Integrating Visual Design and it is my 2nd time reading this book. Plan to re-read.

Whatya think?