Designing for the Social Web – Book Review and Giveaway

I have been a fan of Joshua Porter and his writings over at the Bokardo Blog for quite awhile. When he announced that he’d written a book, Designing for the Social Web, I knew I wanted to read it. It’s taken me a year since its release, but I finally was able to read it, and I also have two copies of the book to give away!

Porter has a well-developed philosophy on design. In his own words:

Five principles guide [his] design philosophy:

  1. The Experience belongs to the user.
  2. Technology serves humans.
  3. Design is not Art
  4. Great design is invisible
  5. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

This shines through in both the topics discussed as well as the overall presentation of the book itself. Designing for the Social Web comprises 8 chapters:

  1. The Rise of the Social Web
  2. A Framework for Social Web Design
  3. Authentic Conversations
  4. Design for Sign-up
  5. Design for Ongoing Participation
  6. Design for Collective Intelligence
  7. Design for Sharing
  8. The Funnel Analysis

Officially my background is in web development, but working in the User Experience and Interactive Marketing fields has allowed me to cultivate an appreciation for design as well. I was actually recently involved in a Twitter exchange with Taj Moore (@tajmo) about design:

design discussion on twitter

Independently both stated that Design is not art, with which I heartily agree. I have known of agencies where an Interaction Designer must be good at Flash; but that should not be to say that someone who knows Flash (or is “an Artist”) is therefore an Interaction Designer.

Designing for the Social WebThe book “examines the series of design problems to correspond to increasing involvement–the Usage Lifecycle–and the strategies social web design can offer.” This refers to the transition of users from ‘unaware’ to ‘interested’ to ‘first-time users’ to ‘regular users’ to ‘passionate users’ of software. This is an incredibly simple concept, yet one that is too often not considered when a project is conceptualized. We want to build a site/make sales/increase conversions, but we don’t always focus on the relationship we need to establish with our visitors to ultimately lead to those tangible objectives.

Designing for the Social Web walks the reader through the changing online landscape, and introduces the idea of the social web. It then introduces the AOF method for making design decisions (Activities, Objects, Features). This chapter resonated with me for a number of reasons. The focus is really on, well, focus. What is the primary activity? What are the objects with which people will interact during this activity? What are the core features? It is easy to dream big, but my personal preference is to refine and simplify and work out the tiny details. If something on an interface doesn’t support the primary action, why include it? Why distract a site visitor from achieving what they want to achieve?

This idea of starting with a core feature set and then enhancing it moving forward is a difference between the ‘old web’ and the new web. A website is not a static thing that is built once to exist in perpetuity. Rather, it should be expected that it will be developed and enhanced as time goes on (to the point where we now consider some sites to be in perpetual beta. There is no need to shove in all the features you may possibly want at the beginning, on the off chance you may need them later.)

designing for the social web

The entire Usage Lifecycle is about lowering barriers and making it easy for people to progress through different stages, and simplifying the interface is one way to do this. This is particularly well-explained in the chapter “Design for Sign-up”. Don’t scare users away with daunting forms that collect more information than is needed. Perhaps you’re interested in knowing the income level of your visitors are, but if site visitors are not invested and don’t see the benefits in sharing this information, you risk their abandoning the page and losing them completely.

Beyond the quality of information, the book itself is a joy to read from an aesthetic standpoint. Every page contains illustrations or examples of the points being made, and helps to drive home the fact that this is a book on effective design.

So now – if you’re interested in receiving a copy of this book, you just need to do one of two things (or both, for double the chance to win!). Either leave a (meaningful) comment to this post, or tweet a link to this post. That’s it! Next week I will collect a list of everyone who’s either commented or tweeted, and I’ll announce the winners!

20 thoughts on “Designing for the Social Web – Book Review and Giveaway

  • that is one of the best books I’ve read so far about social media, communities so far. It is so easely written so that every word is understood. He explains his theories with nice illustrations (ref usage lifecylcle) in order to remember it much better.
    Also his blog @ contains loads and loads of information. What you definately need to do is follow him on twitter: @bokardo
    ohja and you might as well follow me 🙂

    kingjohnny’s last blog een community?

  • This is and will continue to become an increasingly important part of architecting a meaningful online experience. As content moves beyond just a web site designers need to design for an increasing social web. This is were we will be when Web 3.0 arrives. (oh and I ‘d love a copy of the book!! – Josh is excellent)

  • excellent, this could be very useful to build a succesful online experience both for the users and the developers 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  • Joshua Porter is one of the most brilliant minds in the field of social media; it’s always a pleasure reading his articles over at as they’re truly insightful and inspiring. Designing the social way has become a top priority for anyone who’s making websites, carefully evaluating all the individual aspects that contribute to form the User Experience.

    It was nice to read your review, Andrea! This is certainly the next up on my things-to-read list, I’d love to receive a copy of the book! #fingerscrossed

  • Another great book to add to my ever expanding Amazon wishlist! It seem this might help me better articulate the value of this type of process to customers. I sometimes find it hard to explain to them why the day of the $250 website are over. Today, a business can exist solely online or be the primary contact point for customers. Having a purpose and walking a visitor through the site? Simple. Genius.

  • I’m in the middle of a degree in web and interactive media, so this is near and dear to my heart. Tuesday I was at a seminar for GIS – Creating Effective Web Maps. The presenter was proposing to these mapping professionals, a radical new concept, “user-centric” design. Apparently, he had only been made aware of the concept two months before. My programmer colleague and I were trying not to fall out of our chairs. They’re not quite there yet but they discussed simplified interfaces and removal of technical jargon, so it’s a start. A couple of good examples of this done properly: Property info in Greeley, CO and to find out how your stimulus money is being spent in Maryland.

  • I loved the Five principles of design above. If user experience design is your main objectives I could see them being correct, however what if you are creating a type of web art. There are many artistic websites out there that serve their purpose but may not fall into the category or a great experience. I totally agree though that if you do not consider how people are going to use the site you are practically wasting your time. Would love to read the book.

  • Couple of years ago Luke Wrobleski pointed out as an example of a site with a great sign up form. You don’t realize you are signing up when you enter your info on the front page, you’re just taking a step to start doing what you came to the site to do, track your family history. So sign up isn’t inconvenient, it’s actually done eagerly by the user.

  • Just noticed our conversation there. Nice. Funny how Twitter shapes conversation with being “in the moment” … I don’t even know what I was talking about in that last comment.

    Sometimes when I want to be extra clear about whether a creative is good at design or just gets too possessive about what they’re creating, ostensibly, for others, I use the term “artiste.” It carries just a little more tooth and a little less ambiguity when trying to highlight the difference between design and art.

    Taj Moore’s last blog post..June SF Meeting: Thriving in Chaos

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