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Julie Kondo is an interaction designer, not a robot or a panda. This is where she posts about things that inspire her.

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Book Review: Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design is another one of a A Book Apart’s wonderfully informative mini-books about why and how the subject matter is both important and relevant to all web professionals. I’m glad I read this book; it’s given me a good foundation of technical knowledge in starting my first responsive project.

Doing a responsive project has its own challenges, and this book is not meant to illustrate a successful case study, or guide you step by step through a responsive project. This book is meant to provide you with a basic yet critical foundation of the subject, and explain the underlying technology in a very streamlined way. It has proved most useful to me during the prototyping phase of my own responsive project, where understanding the logic of media queries was tremendously helpful for me in defining the expected functionality. And what I love about A Book Apart’s more technical publications is that everything is broken down for you in an easy, digestable chunks. 

Designers, read this book. This is the web design frontier that we should forge into. Translating flat Photoshop comps into a pixel-perfect copy in code never works anyway. Designing a responsive site means working in tandem with development, and understanding how much the design can change once it’s out there in the world, at the hands of our users. The benefit of responsive design is that we end up creating an experience that is flexible and accommodating for more screen sizes, and therefore, more users.

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Book Review: Change By Design

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If you follow Tim Brown’s work, you’ll already be familiar with the tenets of “design thinking”, a subject he talks about in his TED talks and on his blog. His 2009 book, “Change By Design” is basically the published version of these ideas.

The message behind it is that what Tim Brown coins as “design thinking” can truly, systematically change the way we design and innovate. I admit that I am a fan of Tim Brown, and I have probably watched his Creativity and Play video at least six times. I tend to be exceptionally moved by any story about social change brought on by design, and I love seeing real examples of the ways in which design can change the world.

"Change By Design" uses case studies to illustrate the method behind design thinking, and how its application to real problems with real companies yielded amazing, and in some cases profitable, results. The book is also infused with steps that anyone can take to become a design thinker. 

The book is so full of gems that I can’t begin to list them all here. I can say that what I learned from this book will help me see design challenges through a more empathetic lens. That design thinking is first and foremost a human-centered approach is what I admire about it, and actually a key to its success as a tool for innovation. 

Tim Brown mirrors my own experience with these words:

When I left art school, I saw design as a deeply personal art. I certainly did not worry about its connection with business, engineering, or marketing. Once I entered the real world of professional practice, however, I found myself immersed in projects whose interdisciplinary complexity reflected the world around me and began to discover aptitudes I’d never known I had.

3+ years out of art school myself, I am just beginning to appreciate the sheer complexity of what goes into designing something that truly speaks to me, and design has become a more gratifying experience because of this. I will continue to “design think” my way through life, and to embrace empathy and a desire to do good as I navigate a world of problems just waiting for solutions.

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Book Review: CSS3 For Web Designers

Alright, I’ll admit it, I’m pretty excited about CSS3. I can’t imagine designing for the web without it. After trying to wrap my head around javascript (I’m terrible at it), I’m glad something this easy to use has come along. Am I the only person who thinks it’s really cool that you can now create drop shadows with three lines of code? Maybe I am. Maybe I’m just a nerd like that.

I’ve always been a proponent of fusing design with development, and now I support that more than ever. In the right hands, or with the right design/dev partnership, CSS3 could be an amazing toolset for designers. The funny thing is, I don’t see how implementing this logic in a stylesheet is any harder than remembering all those Photoshop filters.

I would almost call this book a must-read for any designer who has touched UI design or likes making websites. The possibilities of CSS3 have not even been fully explored in the web realm, and this book only touches on what it can do. What I especially like about this book is that it breaks down all the different capabilities of CSS3 with easy examples and uncomplicated explanations. This is just what I need, because I definitely prefer these books to straight tutorials, like W3Schools, which is actually a great resource for code, but doesn’t use any interesting, real-life examples or delve into why we should be learning the material. CSS3 for Web Designers is part tutorial, part evangelism for this very cool and still very new development in web design. So it’s hard to read this book and not get excited about the subject matter.

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Understanding UI Design

I love Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics! I read it a few years ago for a class, and I still think about it from time to time. I came across this UX Mag article about realism in UI design, and it references McCloud’s book. Symbols and icons are ubiquitous in web design, but has anyone ever stopped to think about what they mean to the average user?

The point being made here is that symbols are meant to represent, rather than be a specific thing. And while too little detail can cause confusion, too much can detract. Details can be added to a point where the image becomes meaningful. And I have seen UI design go past that point, where artistic details are added and the meaning of that symbol changes.

From Realism in UI Design:

UI elements are abstractions which convey concepts and ideas; they should retain only those details that are relevant to their purpose.

If you want a symbol to be meaningful on a universal level, then the less details you add to it, the more people you can reach. 

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Book Review: The Design of Everyday Things

I make digital products, but a lot of my inspiration comes from product development in the industrial design world. I am a huge proponent of creativity in design, but I also believe in practicality, and this is a duality that I think can, and should, co-exist. I read The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman and it was eye-opening. He talks about the everyday frustrations behind things we touch and interact with every day, and — most interestingly — how we are psychologically hard-wired to blame ourselves for misuse. We think that just because we pull a door that needs to be pushed, we are the stupid ones. Not so. The door’s design has led us to believe that pulling it is the logical way to open it, so when we instinctively pull on it, it is because the door is poorly designed, and not because we are incapable of understanding how doors work. This is a wonderful book that makes a strong case for why it is crucial that designers understand people’s needs, why a clever and thoughtful design does so much in improving users’ lives.

The great thing about this book is that it has aged remarkably well, even if some of the products and case studies mentioned probably wouldn’t apply today (like the way telephone transfers work in his office). Plus, this book does not delve into interaction or web design too much, as that field hadn’t been as developed at the time. Still, I think we can take the learnings from the book and apply them to the web. The important points to remember are that we design for the user, not for ourselves, and that design error and human error are inextricably linked, so we must not forget our users are real people.

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