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:
- The Experience belongs to the user.
- Technology serves humans.
- Design is not Art
- Great design is invisible
- 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:
- The Rise of the Social Web
- A Framework for Social Web Design
- Authentic Conversations
- Design for Sign-up
- Design for Ongoing Participation
- Design for Collective Intelligence
- Design for Sharing
- 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:
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.
The 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.)
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!