I've recently finished the excellent Defensive Design for the Web, authored by some of the people behind 37 Signals (Getting Real, Signal vs. Noise blog). The book is subtitled "How to improve error messages, help, forms and other crisis points", and is referenced in Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think - one of the key reasons behind me reading it (I enjoyed Steve Krug's book a lot).
At only 246 pages, Defensive Design is a short book which means it's a quick read (and not very expensive!). There's lots of illustrations, and the book is neatly divided up into digestible chapters, like: the sort of language you should use when something goes wrong, how to display error messages, how to design forms, help design (FAQ's, Help section, contact information), search options and more.
The authors describe "defensive design" as "contingency design": "design for when things go wrong". The book includes 40 guidelines with lots of examples from actual sites (as of 2004, although in some cases not much has changed), and, helpfully, comparisons to a real-world/non-tech example (for instance, comparing searching a site for "mops" and ending up at "electronics" to the experience of walking into a Target store and getting the same directions).
Like Don't Make Me Think, there's not any code. Most of the guidelines aren't about code but about design choices, and I can understand that providing code would be tough...should the code be PHP, Ruby, ASP.NET, etc?
I would highly recommend this book. It provides clear, simple advice for what to do when coding for errors. Even though I design only intranet sites, this book has helped me rethink the help I provide, and perhaps helped give substance to the advice I read on blogs but find it hard to argue a case for with my boss!
Haven't heard enough praise? Here's some more reviews of the book.
Not sure? The publisher's site has a downloadable chapter.
Tags: book, review, usability, design, web, error
posted @ Monday, November 26, 2007 10:56 PM