Author: Steve Krug
Publisher: New Riders (web)
Reviewed by: Simon Wistow
Every so often you read a book and say to yourself "$God Damn! That's a good book!" and then you go around talking to people and at every opportunity you reccomend that book to them. Even when it's a book about, say, usability (in this case) and you're having a conversation about, I dunno. Cheese. Or something.
These people that you're talking to fall into two categories. The first are people who've already read the book and say "$God Damn! You're right! It was a good book! I was just going to reccomend it to you!". The second group of people are those that read the book to shut you up and then come back and say "$God Damn! That book *was* good! I'm now going to reccomend it to everybody I know!" and then you look smug.
This is one of those books. It's by a guy named Steve. The last three books that have made me feel this way have all been by guys called Steve. It's a conspiracy I tell you but it still means I'm looking forward to Steven Guttenberg's autobiography if only to see if it makes any reference to the Stonecutters.
Anyway, back to Mr Krug's book. What can I say? Well, beyond the hyperbole (not that I'm prone to that, oh no) it rocks. It's funny, it's thorough, it has nice big pictures and it's chewable and bath proof. Ok, maybe not the bath proof/chewable thing but it is good. Essentially 'all' it is is a guide to making web sites usable. Reading through it, looking at the examples and his efforts at redesigning sites to make them better you wind up with a red forehead from slapping it so much and saying "Doh! Of course ...". As he says, right at the start, usability ain't rocket surgery it's just applied common sense. But then programming is just loops, ones and zeros.
What the book *doesn't* set out to do is provide you with a a recipe for building perfect web pages every time. Neither, according to the typical good humoured 'Not present at the time of photo' section, does it discuss business models, predict the future of the web or bad mouth poorly designed sites.
What it does do instead is step by step lead you through how you should think about usability with respect to building web sites, what steps you should take at what times, the process of doing user interviews, tips, tricks, does, don'ts. And at every step you keep thinking 'God. Yes. I must remember that'.
I recently reviewed 'Information Architecture and the World Wide Web' by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. Whilst on paper that was a good book (and of course it's about a different subject) compared to this book it was lacking a certain something. Of course if I could pin my finger on exactly what that was then I'd either be a professional book reviewer or raking it in as an author, raconteur and bon viveur, flitting from party to party wowing people with my wit and verve. But I'm not. I'm a coder and therefore I'm unlikely to end up in a random book of quotations of the kind that clever people keep on their shelves so that they have ammunition in their own witty conversations and that everybody else buys as a last minute generic Christmas present for somebody else.
As programmers, you should buy this book. By knowing about usability and understanding some of the concepts you can only improve yourself. Plus it'll make it easier to speak to the designery types by speaking their 'lingo' and making with the 'jive' designery talk so they'll think you're a 'hep cat'.
You should also, if at all possible give this to any managers, project managers, financial people, secretaries (since they're invariably sleeping with at least one person in senior management anyway) and even think about buying a free copy for clients because after reading this book (and they will read it, it's suprisingly entertaining, I hesitate to use the phrase 'page turner' but that surprise ending really caught me by, err, surprise and the plot was excellently paced) they will understand. They will see the light! They will be saved! And no longer will they question spending budget on hiring a usability expert when that money could be better spent schmoozing more of their odious kin at some crap bar somewhere.
In short, buy this book. At twenty quid (from Amazon.co.uk anyway) it might seem a little pricey for what seems like a slim volume filled with diagrams but trust me, it's worth it.