Kay lives here

working with the web

Defensive Design

End of financial year around here means lots of boxes arriving from Amazon, spending up on those juicy tax-deductible books.

Defensive Design for the WebOne of my purchases was 37 Signals’ Defensive Design for the web. Thumbing through a copy at a colleagues’ office impressed me enough to order my own copy.

It’s a thin book… it was read from cover to cover in a day and a half or so of commutes. But it’s really interesting because it’s chock full of things that everyone already knows, or at least would if they stopped and thought about it. What should happen if a search query returns no results? No brainer – inform the user and suggest some alternatives. What about if a required form field isn’t filled out? Inform the user in an obvious place they’ll able to see, of course. So how come there’s so many sites out there that don’t do these obvious things?

Defensive Design may not have the answer why, but it does have sections on all the common points of failure in a web application, and what you should and shouldn’t do for the best possible user experience. I particularly liked the real world examples of good and bad cases, mostly on really well-known sites – it’s good to know even the big boys get it wrong sometimes! It’s a great book to hit yourself over the head with, and has a handy checklist at the end you can use to check your own sites. While it seems to focus a lot on ecommerce sites, the principles apply to pretty much any site.

If this were a review (is it?) I would rate this book about 9 out of 10.

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