The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web

by Jesse James Garrett

ISBN: 0735712026

This book isn’t a “how to do” book, but a “how to think about” book — which I think makes it more valuable. The problem with far too many websites is that no one person (let alone a team) has thought through the website, from the strategy behind creating the site to the experience of a site visitor.

Garrett is the noted creator of a visual vocabulary for information architecture and one-page pdf diagram explaining, well, the elements of user experience. This book is based on that diagram, first posted on the web in 2000.

Garrett considers a website as two different systems, rolled together: a software application and information delivery vehicle. He structures his thinking about websites on five different planes: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface. What results from this process is a consideration of all parts of a website, including the “why do this?” part. Along the way he quickly and clearly explains what all the jargon the cool kids are using these days means: interaction design, information architecture, user-centered design, and success metrics are just some of the items considered.

I picked up this book because I’m the whole web team and sole techie at my job. Information architecture, usability issues, design, coding, scope setting, and strategic planning are all part of what I do. We are working with outside contractors on a backend overhaul of our site, and as we make future plans for the web, I wanted an overview and refresher to make sure I was thinking about all the bases going forward. I didn’t expect this to be a project management book (because it isn’t) but an idea book, providing a framework to think through the big picture issues involved in implementing a successful website. Given my expections, this book delivered.

I would recommend this book to solo techies in organizations for two reasons: one, you can use Garrett’s framework to assess your current situation and map out where you want to go and identify areas where you need more in-depth information, and two, if you can’t get management to read it you can take Garrett’s clear explanations and use them to help management understand what you do and why they should care about things they may not understand or even know about right now. This book hadn’t been published yet when I was taking MLS classes, but I’d be willing to bet it is showing up on Information Architecture and other web-related course syllabi these days precisely because it provides a solid overview of the terrain covered in good IA work.

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