Let's admit it: Things will go wrong online. No matter how carefully you design a site, no matter how much testing you do, customers still encounter problems. So how do you handle these inevitable breakdowns? With defensive design. In this book, the experts at 37signals (whose clients include Microsoft, Qwest, Monster.com, and Clear Channel) will show you how.
Defensive design is like defensive driving brought to the Web. The same way drivers must always be on the lookout for slick roads, reckless drivers, and other dangerous scenarios, site builders must constantly search for trouble spots that cause visitors confusion and frustration. Good site defense can make or break the customer experience.
In these pages, you'll see hundreds of real-world examples from companies like Amazon, Google, and Yahoo that show the right (and wrong) ways to get defensive. You'll learn 40 guidelines to prevent errors and rescue customers if a breakdown occurs. You'll also explore how to evaluate your own site's defensive design and improve it over the long term.
This book is a must read for designers, programmers, copywriters, and any other site decision-makers who want to increase usability and customer satisfaction.
Chicago-based 37signals (www.37signals.com) is a team of web design and usability specialists dedicated to simple, and usable, customer-focused design. 37signals popularized the concept of contingency/defensive design in various articles and white papers and via the web site DesignNotFound.com. The team also has conducted workshops and presentations on the topic for a variety of conferences and companies.
37signals clients include Microsoft, Qwest, Monster.com, Clear Channel, Panera Bread, Meetup, Performance Bike, and Transportation.com. Work has been featured in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Washington Post, on CNN, and in numerous other publications. Team members have appeared as featured speakers at AIGA Risk/Reward, Activ8, South By Southwest, HOW Design Conference, ForUse, and other conferences. Additional information can be found at www.37signals.com.This book is authored by Matthew Linderman with Jason Fried. Other members of the 37signals team include Ryan Singer and Scott Upton.
Skeptical, I sat with those who made the claims, and we compared our techniques against those this excellent book proposes using live web pages on our intranet. Surprise. We did not measure up, and were certainly not "already doing this".
Phase two, I had one member of my team reengineer one of the smaller internal web sites on our intranet using the techniques given in this book. Business users gave the results high marks, and my team began accepting the book as the official usability guide.
Result: this book has made a measurable difference in the quality of internal web sites we are designing and deploying for various lines of business within our corporation. It is now embraced by my team, and is used as a standard of good practice in web usability. The advice provided in the book has also resulted in less support calls to our team, freeing them to work on design and deployment instead of answering end user questions.
Moral: do not let the surface simplicity of this book fool you. While its contents and advice may seem obvious, chances are that your team is not following those obvious design rules.
The topics covered are covered intelligently and in detail, and address the most common weaknesses found on too many web sites. Moreover, every topic is reinforced with examples from actual and well-known web sites. Specific areas of web site design include:
- Show the Problem (crafting visible and informative error messages)
- Language Matters (excellent tips on writing content that is descriptive, short and gets attention)
- Bulletproof Forms (take the confusion out of filling in forms and validate data)
- Missing in Action (go beyond 404 messages, and how to enhance the visitor experience even if they are using older browsers or are missing needed plug-ins)
- Lend a Helping Hand (creating help that is ... well, helpful)
- Get Out of the Way (how to find and eliminate stuff that slows down page loading, detracts from the main content, or alienate visitors)
- Search and Rescue (tips for making your site search engine give visitors relevant information instead of dumping everything under the sun in response to a query)
- Out of Stocks and Unavailable Items (best practices in stock management if you are selling items on the site)
- Contingency Design (a strategy for continuous improvement)
What I most like about this book is the fact that it isn't based on some rigid design philosophy, but instead, is a compendium of design issues commonly found on major sites - and how to make sure your site doesn't have them. Most of the items covered are the very ones that are likely to irritate you when you encounter them on someone else's site. The elegant solutions given in this book can serve as a checklist of what to consider when you're designing or improving your own site. If I had to recommend only one book on site design to new web masters this would be it.
The book is simple in its layout and each section is easy to read by itself or you could read it from cover to cover if you wanted to. I found myself skipping around some and just skimming some areas of the book.
Its not a must have, but it is a good to have.