The best book I’ve ever read on interface design 03 Aug 2005

17 comments Latest by Herfoi

I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately from people asking for interface design book recommendations, so I figured I’d just post my favorite book here. Designing Visual Interfaces, by Kevin Mullet and Darrell Sano, eloquently describes what the authors consider the six tenets of interface design: elegance and simplicity; scale, contrast, and proportion; organization and visual structure; module and program; image and representation; and style. I do prefer the old cover though.

This book predates the commercial web (it was published in 1994), and you’ll see quite a bit of CD-ROM screens dissected, but the advice remains fresh, relevant, and spot on. They draw their observations and recommendations from the world of modern and traditional graphic design, architecture, industrial design, and even interior design. It’s a great read.

My second favorite is everyone’s favorite Don’t Make Me Think by the friendly and kind Steve Krug. If there was ever a must read book on web design and usability, this is the one. This book reads like an old friend.

17 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Chris 03 Aug 05

I’d second both of those books.

Mike 03 Aug 05

That book is fantastic, I remember reading it last year thinking I was in a time-warp because of all the great icon examples from many, many years ago.

emm ess eff 03 Aug 05

as for the old cover preference… gee, I wonder why?

I’m busy installing these books in our office library.

louis 03 Aug 05

i love “do not make me think”, and this looks like the perfect use for my amazon gift card. just bought it, thank you!

i second the old cover, this new one is ug-lay.

on another note, how come we can’t save our posting name/email in cookies? it would make commenting easier.

Anonymous Coward 03 Aug 05

The power of a popular blog. This book started with an Amazon rank of about 60K when the post first went up and is now hovering around 4,000.

JF 03 Aug 05

Check that, #1,570 now.

Chuck McKinnon 03 Aug 05

I *love* the Mullet and Sano book! Totally agree: dated examples don’t keep it from being useful and relevant.

Seconded (thirded?) on the old cover though. When I picked up a replacement copy last year, I thought “Is this the same book?” Ironic that a book on visual interfaces should have a hard-to-read cover.

Chuck McKinnon 03 Aug 05

Before I forget, another excellent non-web-specific book is The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams (not the actor).

Patrick Haney 04 Aug 05

Don’t Make Me Think is probably my favorite interface design book. Steve really knows how to get a reader’s attention and keep it as well as give us all a lesson in design. I found myself unable to put the book down and finished it in 2 days (it is a short book though, so that’s not too impressive I suppose).

Drew 04 Aug 05

+1 I’ve read a load of these books, and this is the only one worth the paper its printed on (i have the bogus new-cover version too).

ak 05 Aug 05

I wrote to Steve Krug a few months ago (Feb I think) and he said that he was working on Don’t Make Me Think, 2nd Edtn. The original book is somewhat timeless but it is 5 years old. Anyone else heard anything about the next edition?

emm ess eff 07 Aug 05


# Paperback: 224 pages
# Publisher: New Riders Press; 2 edition (August 17, 2005)
# Language: English
# ISBN: 0321344758

Hang in there.

AdamR 08 Aug 05

“Designing Visual Interfaces” is one of my favorite interface design books also. However, if there’s one that tops it IMHO, it’s “Information Appliances and Beyond” edited by Eric Bergman. I find myself looking at this one regularly for inspiration, if not for actual guidelines as you get from the Sano and Mullet book. In particular the interview with Rob Hitani (UI architect of the original Palm) and the designer of the EPOC UI for Psion PDAs (sorry don’t remember his name) are filled with many deep insights that are applicable far beyond “information appliances”. Definitely in swing with the 37 signals vibe!

Interestingly enough, Bergman, Sano and Mullet are all Sun Microsystems alums…


Max 10 Aug 05

The Rob Haitani interview in Bergman’s book is a classic - especially if you are working with mobile devices. Mullet & Sano is good for the visual design aspects of UI design as are Tufte’s books. I like the distinction between different planes relevant to product design (strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, surface) identified in Garret’s “The Elements of User Experience”. For more on the first two of these planes I would recommend Cooper’s “The Inmates are Running the Asylum”. Time to preorder Don’t Make Me Think, 2nd ed - wonder why I never got around to buying the first edition…