Jeff Johnson: Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules

Feb 28, 2016

I received Designing with the Mind in Mind as yet another Christmas present. I wasn’t expecting this one, so it came as a real surprise. It’s fair to say that I’m interested in design in a casual way, but I also like to go a bit deeper to understand it if not be able to craft it myself. For this reason, Jeff Johnson’s book was a nice material. As the title suggests, the author synthesizes psychological, neurological and cognitive research relevant to design. Personally, I didn’t find it very revelatory, but I’ll definitely use it as a reference point in the future.

The book is structured into twelve topical chapters. The topics include perception and factors which affect it, details of visual perception, visual structure, reading, colour vision, visual focus and peripheral vision, memory, attention, learning and time requirements.

This filtering of perception by our goals is particularly true for adults, who tend to be more focused on goals than children are. Children are more stimulus driven: their perception is less filtered by their goals. This characterisitic makes them more distractible than adults, but it also makes them less biased as observers.

Jeff Johnson: Designing with the Mind in Mind

I especially liked the last chapter on time requirements, because it included helpful lists of important thresholds and key rules for dealing with them. For example, if a system doesn’t react within 140 ms of an action, its reaction is perceived as not related to the triggering event. The guidelines are common-sense things like acknowledge user action immediately, indicate when busy, allow to cancel lengthy operations, estimate time needed etc., but it is definitely nice to have a quick checklist to fall back to.

Over the past four decades, researchers have found consistently that an interactive system’s responsiveness— its ability to keep up with users, keep them informed about its status, and not make them wait unexpectedly— is the most important factor in determining user satisfaction. It is not just one of the most important factors; it is the most important factor.

Jeff Johnson: Designing with the Mind in Mind

The language of the book is clear and simple. All complex ideas are explained and illustrated by examples. The author rather errs on the side of explaining terms than not, but it doesn’t become condescending or repetitive. I can easily recommend this book as a reference text or a quick intro to the field.