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Secrets of Effective GUI Design.

One of the worst things that a computer programmer o interface designer can do is make a good thing look bad. Even if the underlying business rules of a program are sound, if its user interface is cluttered, clumsy, or poorly designed, the application is virtually worthless.

Secrets of Effective GUI Design is a guide to designing graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that helps developers write interfaces that the user can use productively. Mark Minasi discusses the problems found in a typical GUI and provide rules for effective design. The book is easy to read and is written for both amateur and professional programmers who have a need to quickly learn and apply good GUI design practices. The author aptly makes the following parallel: this book is to GUI design as Strunk and White's Elements of Style is to writing.

The majority of the book discusses proper use of GUI metaphors such as windows, pop-up windows, messages, menus, controls, buttons, color, and lists. Chapter 1 sets forth the philosophies, characteristics, and rules for proper GUI design. Chapters 2 through 9 are devoted to showing how to organize GUIS with the plethora of elements available. Chapter 10 is dedicated to designing and implementing useful help facilities. Chapter 11 points out that users are the best source for customizing their GUI environment; thus, for example, an application should provide flexibility to change color, fonts, and mouse buttons. Chapter 12 discusses primarily the use of prototyping tools, such as Microsoft Visual Basic, as an effective platform to assist in developing good GUIs.

This book, however, addresses only two windowing systems: Microsoft Windows 3.x and OS/2 2.x. It does not address other popular windowing platforms such as Motif and the Apple Macintosh interface. As such, it leans toward teaching proper designing techniques of a given platform's interface and its tools without generalizing across GUIs. Given that the majority of personal computers are shipped with Microsoft Windows, the book's text, pictures, and tone are purposely focused on this market. However, although some of the principles may be carried over to other platforms, the details in cross-referencing metaphors would be difficult. The other problem that readers may encounter is the lack of generalization across future GUIs. As Microsoft Windows 95 arrives (with a new "look-and-feel") and upcoming hints of what Cairo (the object-oriented version of Windows NT) will look like are revealed, the book may quickly become outdated.

If you're looking for a quick way to enhance your GUI designing skills in Microsoft Windows or OS/2, Minasi's book will definitely help. However, if you're more interested in comprehensive GUI theory, establishing longer-term GUI standards for your company, or designing multiplatform applications that may include character-based interfaces, this book would fall short of your needs. You'd do better to look at It's Time To Clean Your Windows: Designing GUIs That Work, by Wilbert O. Galitz, for a more in-depth and well-rounded coverage of this topic

It's Time To Clean Your Windows is based on Galitz' previously published Handbook of Screen Format Design. A comprehensive book covering a wide range of topics in detail, the new book adds GUI design theory.

The book is written for professional programmers who need to thoroughly understand and apply sound computer interface design principles. The author generalizes graphical interfaces to most platforms, including Microsoft Windows, OS/2 Presentation Manager and Workplace Shell, Apple Macintosh, Sun Open Look, NEXT Nextstep, and the popular X/windows (used, for example, by Digital Equipment Corporation and Hewlett-Packard). Differences between interfaces are appropriately identified.

Contrary to popular belief, text-based interfaces are not going to disappear for some time. Mainframes are still considered the workhorses of many large mission-critical systems (for example, airline check-in and post office terminals). Proper design of such terminal interfaces remains a necessity. Galitz borrows appropriate portions from his older book to cover this topic.

Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the concept of computer interface design, provide a brief history, discuss advantages and disadvantages of graphical interfaces, and examine some published studies. Chapter 3 details 18 general principles of GUI design. Chapter 4 succinctly defines 12 steps for effective GUI screen design. Chapter 5 focuses on fully explaining how users work with computers and what their expectations are. Chapters 6 through 14 provide details on interface metaphores, such as windows, menus, input devices, controls, color, and icons. Chapter 15 discusses such topics as the use of proper and effective language (for example, tone, selection of words, and avoidance of jargon) with screen designs, sound, and help facilities. The short Chapter 16 outlines testing of screen prototypes.

It's Time To Clean Your Windows is the most comprehensive book on general screen design available, because its goal is to proceduralize all aspects of a multifaceted computer discipline over a broad range of platforms. The detail, however, can be overwhelming to someone who just wants to develop a quick and dirty" application that looks good and works well. Although all windowing environments are covered, some implementation details (for example, which tools on which platforms will best help a programmer accomplish the outlined objectives) are left to the reader to investigate.

If you work in Microsoft Windows or OS/2 and don't need this much theoretical detail, look instead to Minasi's Secrets of Effective GUI Design. Otherwise, Galitz's book should meet the professional needs of COBOL mainframe programmers who are making the transition to a GUI environment, experienced C programmers who would like to institutionalize good screen design practices, and Macintosh or Microsoft Windows programmers who want greater in-depth coverage of this topic.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Society for Technical Communication
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jo, Clifford
Publication:Technical Communication
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1995
Previous Article:Developing User Interfaces: Ensuring Usability Through Product and Process.
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