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Book: Sample Chapter, Table of Contents, Etc.

25 Feb 2004 by Matthew Linderman

Defensive Design for the Web This is the third in a series of posts about our upcoming book “Defensive Design for the Web: How To Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points.” The book is scheduled to be published on February 27, 2004 (update: new release date is March 8). You can pre-order it at Amazon now. Or sign up to be notified by e-mail when the book is released.

Alright, the new, lower price is up at Amazon. It’s only $17.49 (that’s 30% off the $24.99 list price).

Let’s take a closer look at the book’s contents. You can now download (for free) Chapter 4, Bulletproof Forms (PDF, 569 KB). This chapter shows you how to use defensive design to create friendly forms that are easy to complete. It’s represesentative of how the guideline chapters use examples and head to head comparisons to explain the ins and outs of defensive/contingency design.

What else is covered? Here’s a complete table of contents for the book:

1. Introduction
Understanding Defensive Design.
2. Show the Problem
Display obvious error messages and alerts.
3. Language Matters
Provide clear instructions.
4. Bulletproof Forms - PDF, 569 KB
Create friendly forms that are easy to complete.
5. Missing in Action
Overcome missing pages, images, or plug-ins.
6. Lend a Helping Hand
Offer help that’s actually helpful.
7. Get Out of the Way
Eliminate obstacles to conversion (e.g. unnecessary ads, registration, navigation, etc.).
8. Search and Rescue
Deliver the right results with smart search engine assistance.
9. Out of Stocks and Unavailable Items
Make sure unavailable items don’t become dead ends.
10. The Contingency Design Test
Evaluate your site’s defensive design.
11. Conclusion

Here’s what Scott Heiferman, co-founder of Meetup.com & Fotolog.net, has to say about the book:

“Defend yourself — listen to 37signals! If useful web design is important to you, then how can you NOT pay attention to Defensive Design? Matt and Jason break new ground on a crucial part of web design that you don’t hear much about elsewhere.”

27 comments so far (Post a Comment)

25 Feb 2004 | Omar McFarlane said...

Hi guys!
That's some great work you've put together, I was debating it before but now I might actually pick up your book. That chapter alone made me thing of a few things wrong with forms in websites I develop that I can do better.

I just have one question though, on page 29 of the PDF you give the University of Washington a thumbs down for confirming deletion of a form, but you go to say "Itís always a good idea to confirm data deletion ..." Is this a typo or am I missing something?

In either case, great work (as always). Keep it up!

25 Feb 2004 | Mike P. said...

How timely.

Just finished three days of coding up forms...

25 Feb 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

OK, ever the one to carp I have to ask: who is this book intended for? Newbies? The sample chapter tells me pretty much nothing about form design that I don't already know about.

I'm not just being arrogant here, and the amount of negative examples from established sites shows that sensible guidelines are obviously needed. But I was expecting a bit (well, alot!) more than 'validate your forms', 'use maxlength', etc.

Cover the basics by all means, but what about more advanced and difficult cases/techniques? What do you have to say, for example, about making forms usable *and* accessible (a thorny topic that cropped up on SVN recently)? What about some hard data about when to use client-side validation and when to do it server-side?

37sigs have a well-deserved reputation for forward-thinking, practical, innovative, and elegant design. You wouldn't believe it from that chapter, to be honest.

25 Feb 2004 | Nick Chapman said...

On the University of Washington example there is a thumbs down next to it. Isn't that a positive example? Aren't you saying that confirming deletion is a good idea?

25 Feb 2004 | ML said...

Cover the basics by all means, but what about more advanced and difficult cases/techniques?

Thanks for the feedback Jonny. We felt the book had to start with the basics. While much of smart defensive/contingency design seems like common sense, it's funny how difficult common sense can be until someone shows it to you. While the book is definitely valuable for newbies, there are also plenty of sites run by "experts" that are making these same mistakes -- they'll also benefit.

The readership will probably be similar to the folks who enjoy general usability books like those by Krug and Nielsen. If you're looking for advanced techniques, coding examples, statistical research, etc. then you're probably best off skipping it. But if you're looking for a comprehensive guide to implementing effective contingency design at your site, then the book is a unique resource that we think will prove quite valuable.

On the University of Washington example there is a thumbs down next to it. Isn't that a positive example?

Yes, we spotted this error during editing so it should be corrected in the actual version of the book. This PDF is from the New Riders site which they apparently haven't updated yet with the final version.

25 Feb 2004 | Charbel said...

I totally agree with ML in that some of hte most comment sense type of things are always ommitted, and need to be re-iterated. After all, making a site usable is all about commen sense, and there are tons of examples out there where it's not applied.

Chapter 7 "Get Out of the Way" looks very interesting...Care to give a bit of a more detailed summary on what it covers???

25 Feb 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

"The readership will probably be similar to the folks who enjoy general usability books like those by Krug and Nielsen. If you're looking for advanced techniques, coding examples, statistical research, etc. then you're probably best off skipping it. But if you're looking for a comprehensive guide to implementing effective contingency design at your site, then the book is a unique resource that we think will prove quite valuable. "

Fair and honest, thanks ML. It's not so much that I'm looking for 'coding exmaples' or 'statistical research', just that the sample chapter lacked the 'wow' factor that you guys normally project. Only IMO, of course.

25 Feb 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

"After all, making a site usable is all about commen sense, and there are tons of examples out there where it's not applied."

Agreed. Don't get me wrong, anything that gets these basics across is welcome.

25 Feb 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

"After all, making a site usable is all about commen sense, and there are tons of examples out there where it's not applied."

Agreed. Don't get me wrong, anything that gets these basics across is welcome.

25 Feb 2004 | Brenda said...

I noticed that you didn't talk about the accessibility of form design in this chapter. A form that isn't accessible to users of assistive devices isn't usable to them either. As you've heard me say before... blind users have bank accounts too. Making web forms accessible is an easy way to increase an ecommerce site's customer base.

Granted, most accommodations in forms for accessibility are in the code, but there are some interface considerations as well. Placement of labels in relation to their respective fields/boxes/buttons, for example.

I'm curious... did you review your recommendations to make sure they would lead to design choices that wouldn't inhibit accessibility?

25 Feb 2004 | Berto said...

Even though the book covers some basics that all professionals should know already, it's good to have as a "pre-flight" checklist.

Even the best of us forget to turn on our headlights or use our turn signals.

25 Feb 2004 | ML said...

Update: Due to a "glitch" at the printer the book will probably not be available at Amazon until March 8.

26 Feb 2004 | CM Harrington said...

Woops!

It seems there is a mistake on the PDF. On Page 29, the "University of Washington" case shows a "thumbs down", while the text describes how they correctly confirm the erasure of the user's data. Because you previously mention that this is A Good Thing, I would suggest changing the icon to a "thumbs up". It's as if you hate them for doing a good job ;-)

26 Feb 2004 | Not Brenda said...

Brenda, you bring up a good point, but this isn't a book about accessibility. Do you ask accessability books if they pay attention to error and error prevention? There's plenty of room for all sorts of books. Accessibility isn't a requirement for every book (even though some people seem to think it's the be-all-end-all of usability).

26 Feb 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

"Accessibility isn't a requirement for every book (even though some people seem to think it's the be-all-end-all of usability)."

I've never come across anyone who thinks that! However, Brenda's point is entirely valid: how can you claim to be building a 'usable' site with great 'contingency design' if you don't make it accessible? You can't.

28 Feb 2004 | reader said...

I read the forms chapter, one thing I was struck with is that there was so much white space and wasted paper. You could have summarized the entire chapter in a few bullet points. and the graphics are basically taking up space. No wonder why you have to keep on lowering the price, there's not much CONTENT!!!

Don't make the book THICKER by putting a paragraph per page. It's like tricking people.... Maybe in college you could get away with 14pt font and triple spacing but this is the real world...

28 Feb 2004 | Bryan said...

White space on the web is a good thing, but on book pages it's not? I read the chapter too and I like the layout. One major example per page. Makes it very clear and readable.

29 Feb 2004 | reader said...

white space "__can__" be a good thing, both in print and web. but when there is one image/paragraph per page you can tell that they just ran out of ideas to write about. how about some JS code instead of saying, "you could do this with JS, or there are places where you can find the JS code" or something else, expand upon the ideas, don't just touch on them and leave white space the rest of the page.

what I basically don't like is padding and fluff. If there is content give it to me straight up. don't make me wade through one example after another of the same thing. I would hope most people reading this are smart enough to not be led through the chapter like a child. noting every *small* detail. list them and explain is fine, but saying the same thing 3 times is a waste of time for both the user and writer. I bet by reading just this chapter the book could easily be 1/3 the size without and detriment to content.

many of the points made are common sense and if they wern't to the reader, well then the book's not going to help much.

I actually agree with almost everthing that was said, and think it's great, but give the benefit of the doubt to the reader that they can handle it straight up and don't waste their time... thank you.

29 Feb 2004 | reader said...

if this book was nearly as comprehensive as "designing with web standards" not that DWWS is an end all book, it's just an intro really.

If this book had as much content I might think about getting it, but not as it is now. I love 37singals, but this must be their first time writing a book, you can tell. If I could get a book of conversations from the office day to day I'm sure that would be much more rich than this book...

maybe they're keeping the secrets to themselves??? :D

29 Feb 2004 | Bryan said...

People! It's not about page count, white space, or anything like that. It's about value. And I press anyone to read the book (which is on a topic that no other web design book covers in detail) and not feel like they got their $17.50 worth. No, I haven't read it, but I picked up a few tips from the sample chapter already so I assume there's plenty more where that came from.

05 Mar 2004 | Lea said...

I understand this isn't a "technical" book, but I would have liked it if certain techniques have a URI to a tutorial on how to do it technically. Don't care if that tutorial is done by 37signals or not, but I think it would help.

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