I picked up this book after seeing Jessica Ivins’s article about learning about UX, an area I am keen to build my skills in. The book was listed as one of just five of “the classic UX books”. Alongside it were Don’t Make Me Think, and Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond. Earlier editions of both those books were a huge influence when I was starting out as a web professional. High praise then.
The contents page encouraged me. Each of the 16 chapters covers a major area of UX projects — project management; business requirements; user research; personas; content strategy; wireframes… The list goes on. Tick, tick, tick (those are my boxes being ticked).
The book reminds me of a lot of the textbooks you are advised to buy in your first year at university. Essentially it is an introductory primer to a massive subject. That is useful to a point, but soon enough you discover that the true insight is to be found in the further reading.
As I worked my way through the book, I began to realise that I wasn’t learning anything new that I hadn’t already picked up from my 7 years working in institutional web teams.
Someone with several years of experience probably isn’t the target audience for this book. But I was still hoping for more. And the subjects receive such a surface-level treatment that I find it difficult to imagine a complete beginner would find much value in the book either — at least not without a lot of supplementary reading.
Take the chapter on personas as an example. Personas are a common, but sometimes controversial, UX technique. So there is plenty of scope to take a deep dive and consider their pros and cons, advise on pitfalls to avoid, and so on.
Instead, the chapter mainly focuses on what an ideal template of a persona would be. The chapter ends with a small section that glibly and non-committally notes that opinions differ among some practitioners regarding the value of personas. For me, it was a missed opportunity to truly explore the advantages and disadvantages of the technique.
Some of the later chapters contain a bit more insight. The chapter about testing designs with users has some interesting nuggets about methodologies. But even then, Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy is a more engaging — and encouraging — primer on usability testing.
This book is also five years old. In a field as fast-moving as UX, what was best practice a few years ago may be old hat today.
For instance, mobile is barely mentioned at all in this 300+ page book. Responsive design is briefly noted as a novel new technique to keep an eye on.
The truth is that UX is a huge area to try and cover fully in one textbook. Each of these chapters deserves a book of its own. In fact, as I go through the chapters I could almost name you the book for each one.
However, there are some good reasons for me to keep this on my bookshelf next to Don’t Make Me Think and Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond.
There is undeniably something useful about having one book that covers all of the major techniques, no matter how superficially. I can imagine the power of slapping this book on the table as you try to demonstrate the value of UX to a project.
Just remember also to say that there is so much more to learn on top of that.