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User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play

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In User Friendly, Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant reveal the untold story of a paradigm that quietly rules our modern lives: the assumption that machines should anticipate what we need. Spanning over a century of sweeping changes, from women's rights to the Great Depression to World War II to the rise of the digital era, this book unpacks the ways in which the world has b In User Friendly, Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant reveal the untold story of a paradigm that quietly rules our modern lives: the assumption that machines should anticipate what we need. Spanning over a century of sweeping changes, from women's rights to the Great Depression to World War II to the rise of the digital era, this book unpacks the ways in which the world has been--and continues to be--remade according to the principles of the once-obscure discipline of user-experience design. In this essential text, Kuang and Fabricant map the hidden rules of the designed world and shed light on how those rules have caused our world to change--an underappreciated but essential history that's pieced together for the first time. Combining the expertise and insight of a leading journalist and a pioneering designer, User Friendly provides a definitive, thoughtful, and practical perspective on a topic that has rapidly gone from arcane to urgent to inescapable. In User Friendly, Kuang and Fabricant tell the whole story for the first time--and you'll never interact with technology the same way again.


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In User Friendly, Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant reveal the untold story of a paradigm that quietly rules our modern lives: the assumption that machines should anticipate what we need. Spanning over a century of sweeping changes, from women's rights to the Great Depression to World War II to the rise of the digital era, this book unpacks the ways in which the world has b In User Friendly, Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant reveal the untold story of a paradigm that quietly rules our modern lives: the assumption that machines should anticipate what we need. Spanning over a century of sweeping changes, from women's rights to the Great Depression to World War II to the rise of the digital era, this book unpacks the ways in which the world has been--and continues to be--remade according to the principles of the once-obscure discipline of user-experience design. In this essential text, Kuang and Fabricant map the hidden rules of the designed world and shed light on how those rules have caused our world to change--an underappreciated but essential history that's pieced together for the first time. Combining the expertise and insight of a leading journalist and a pioneering designer, User Friendly provides a definitive, thoughtful, and practical perspective on a topic that has rapidly gone from arcane to urgent to inescapable. In User Friendly, Kuang and Fabricant tell the whole story for the first time--and you'll never interact with technology the same way again.

30 review for User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    The book opens with a recounting of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, where an initially small failure turned into a disaster that destroyed the plant -- because the control room was so poorly designed that the operators could never figure out what went wrong. The control room had 1100 dials and 600 alarms [!!], haphazardly laid out. The plant’s basic engineering was sound, and it was in the process of shutting itself down in the fail-safe response its designers had intend The book opens with a recounting of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, where an initially small failure turned into a disaster that destroyed the plant -- because the control room was so poorly designed that the operators could never figure out what went wrong. The control room had 1100 dials and 600 alarms [!!], haphazardly laid out. The plant’s basic engineering was sound, and it was in the process of shutting itself down in the fail-safe response its designers had intended. Left alone, it would have shut down safely. But the operators, misunderstanding the problem, turned off the emergency cooling system. Result: a partial meltdown of the reactor core. Kuang recounted this history because monumental machine disasters are usually the result of design problems. A good way to introduce a design book, by showing what can go wrong with bad design. The best review I saw online, and the one to read first: https://www.core77.com/posts/91628/Yo... From my notes: two African design students, who came up with the “Magic Bus” advance-ticketing scheme: buy advance tickets via SMS cell-phone messages, which circumvent a widespread developing-world problem: bus drivers rent their bus by the day from the owners, for a fixed daily fee. If they don’t make their “nut" for the day, they lose money. So they hang around the bus terminal, waiting for passengers, until they have enough to at least break even. Which is why the buses were always late in Nairobi…. And another spectacular “user-unfriendly” anecdote: My wife and I happened to shop in an East Palo Alto, Calif. Target store that apparently had a problem with their shopping-carts disappearing. So they added a little RFID cart-locking device, which somehow triggered itself and locked the wheels while we were shopping! I found a cart without the wheel lock, and transferred our stuff. Do you think we’ll shop at that store again? This is a poor(ish) suburb adjoining wealthy Palo Alto. An exceptionally well-researched and well-written book. Recommended reading, especially for those interested in technology and design. 4.5 stars, rounded up. ================================== Another first-rate review, at the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/19/bo... Excerpt: "User Friendly is a tour de force, an engrossing fusion of scholarly research, professional experience and revelations from intrepid firsthand reporting."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    Designs of physical products, online interactions, and real-world experiences is a lot more interesting and backed by an intriguing history than you may think. Most of us understand that things like Apple products have a lot of design built into them, but have we ever thought about the levels and varieties of design thinking that go into Disney theme parks, the radar system of a WWII-era battleship, the handle of a vegetable peeler, and the control room of a nuclear reactor? These are just a few Designs of physical products, online interactions, and real-world experiences is a lot more interesting and backed by an intriguing history than you may think. Most of us understand that things like Apple products have a lot of design built into them, but have we ever thought about the levels and varieties of design thinking that go into Disney theme parks, the radar system of a WWII-era battleship, the handle of a vegetable peeler, and the control room of a nuclear reactor? These are just a few of the examples that Kuang explores in this surprisingly captivating history behind the ideas of "user friendly" design. Kuang is at his best when detailing the implications of the unintuitive designs of physical large systems like nuclear power plants and the implications of frictionless interactions such as "1-Click" and "Like" buttons that now pervade our online lives. Perhaps the most surprisingly satisfying read of 2019 for me.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mike Rapp

    I have been a user experience designer for years and this book made so many things click into place. If you have any role in product design, this should be required reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    User Friendly is a super compelling look at the history and foundations of UX. I like how the story threads together many parts of that history-- as far back as WWII. I think we so often think of technology as this fast-paced thing that we can't ever hold on to or understand. User friendliness is something that will always be related to technology and so getting a moment to step back and learn its origins is really insightful. I like that for the most part that history is told with a human lens, User Friendly is a super compelling look at the history and foundations of UX. I like how the story threads together many parts of that history-- as far back as WWII. I think we so often think of technology as this fast-paced thing that we can't ever hold on to or understand. User friendliness is something that will always be related to technology and so getting a moment to step back and learn its origins is really insightful. I like that for the most part that history is told with a human lens, looking at the designers behind the movement. All in all, a well-written and insightful read worth your time!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Josh Leong

    User friendly is well written, incredibly engaging, and should be required reading for individuals who seek to or currently practice user experience design. Because product design is ultimately a trade based discipline that in some sense accepts many other disciplines to it, one of its biggest missing pieces is a strong connection to the stories that built it, and a common narrative to bring it together. As the field of User Experience is still evolving rapidly, it makes the hidden stories of wh User friendly is well written, incredibly engaging, and should be required reading for individuals who seek to or currently practice user experience design. Because product design is ultimately a trade based discipline that in some sense accepts many other disciplines to it, one of its biggest missing pieces is a strong connection to the stories that built it, and a common narrative to bring it together. As the field of User Experience is still evolving rapidly, it makes the hidden stories of where we come from all the more important.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I have this five stars based on the number of Post Its I used and anecdotes I related to my husband. Great stories about why Three Mile Island melted, planes crash and Walt Disney. We take good design based on psychology for granted. After reading this book you will be more aware of how design affects you every day. The chapter on self-driving cars is weak and dated. Maybe for the paperback version he can cut this chapter and replace it with one on the USS John McCain, which crashed due to poor d I have this five stars based on the number of Post Its I used and anecdotes I related to my husband. Great stories about why Three Mile Island melted, planes crash and Walt Disney. We take good design based on psychology for granted. After reading this book you will be more aware of how design affects you every day. The chapter on self-driving cars is weak and dated. Maybe for the paperback version he can cut this chapter and replace it with one on the USS John McCain, which crashed due to poor design.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joe Brown

    Fascinating book, very well written. The author does an excellent job of elucidating how design is so much more than aesthetics—it’s a sub-language, a user-guide built into everything we interact with. We rarely know to look at it, but our minds see it. A book rarely changes the way you see the world, but if you let it, this one can.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrey Goder

    This book covers several disparate topics, which unfortunately were not combined in the most cohesive way. Part of it is a history of UX/design, which is interesting, but is not presented linearly which can make it hard to follow. My favorite part was the discussion of the development of industrial design of physical objects and how it significantly influenced digital design. Additionally it includes a description of more recent ideas in design, such as improvements in driver-assist technology i This book covers several disparate topics, which unfortunately were not combined in the most cohesive way. Part of it is a history of UX/design, which is interesting, but is not presented linearly which can make it hard to follow. My favorite part was the discussion of the development of industrial design of physical objects and how it significantly influenced digital design. Additionally it includes a description of more recent ideas in design, such as improvements in driver-assist technology in cars, design of smartphone apps, etc. There was a long section in the middle that was basically soapboxing about the 'evils' of social media which felt really out of place. It didn't really have anything to do with design specifically (except in some very stretched way) and it seemed like the author just wanted to have a platform to insert these views. It really detracted from the flow of the book. A lot of the more interesting ideas to me were actually not elaborated on significantly. I would have liked to read more about ideas for the future of design and how we can make it better (which was hinted at a little). There was an interesting section about making things easy to use having some downsides (worse understanding of the underlying system) but again this wasn't elaborated on very much. Overall, the book had a scattering of interesting ideas, so I did enjoy it in parts, but it really felt like it was lacking that cohesive whole to make it a truly great experience.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

    One of the best parts of my job involves observing my family's behavior, then redesigning our environment to match our natural behavior with a desired outcome. It turns out this is an entire field of study. #careeroptions In seriousness, this book was fascinating. It discussed how the design of an object can affect its user's experience of that little piece of the world; it raised ethical and philosophical questions about how design does and should affect the tools that we use. I had to burn thro One of the best parts of my job involves observing my family's behavior, then redesigning our environment to match our natural behavior with a desired outcome. It turns out this is an entire field of study. #careeroptions In seriousness, this book was fascinating. It discussed how the design of an object can affect its user's experience of that little piece of the world; it raised ethical and philosophical questions about how design does and should affect the tools that we use. I had to burn through the reading of this (it was a library book that was overdue already), but I would have liked to have read it slowly, letting several of his ideas sink in.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Phil Costa

    Really insightful book about how designers approach their tasks and about the broader questions of how designs affect the way we see the possibilities and the world. I felt like the first 2/3 of the book (about the historical evolution of user experience and design choices for things like nuclear power plants and airplanes) was stronger than the end sections (about the like button), but that may be the luxury of a longer perspective. Regardless, definitely worth a read if you're interested in pr Really insightful book about how designers approach their tasks and about the broader questions of how designs affect the way we see the possibilities and the world. I felt like the first 2/3 of the book (about the historical evolution of user experience and design choices for things like nuclear power plants and airplanes) was stronger than the end sections (about the like button), but that may be the luxury of a longer perspective. Regardless, definitely worth a read if you're interested in product design or how product designers are shaping your view of the world.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Esther Espeland

    Read this bc I work at a design school lmao but I really enjoyed it! Not at all something I thought about before but it was well researched and written and I learned a lot! And it had a social conscience tg tech companies are evil and I shan’t read anything that won’t recognize them as such!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meera Sapra

    This is a most excellent book that I would put next to Don Norman's Design of Everyday Things. The authors talk about the history of human-centered design through several relevant concepts and real-world examples. I love how the author bring together so many powerful stories to explain the concept of user-friendliness, how it evolved over time, and what trends they predict for the future. This book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the field of design.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris Irwin

    Wow-this was an amazing read! As an industry leader, it's hard to find technology books which thread practical storytelling, complex topical paradigms and new and unheard historical perspectives. This book does all of it. For students, new or lifelong, I highly recommend reading this over the boilerplate practicum of yesteryear. It's as fresh and relevant as anything out there!

  14. 4 out of 5

    César

    Awesome history of design and design thinking coupled with a nuanced perspective of the promise and perils of designing digital products in the modern world. A must read for anyone wanting to think strategically about what it means to design something well and with purpose.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ned Frederick

    When I first plugged into the user-centered way of thinking about product design, it was four decades ago and I was struggling to understand functional design as it applied to footwear. This was at a time when Industrial Designers, for the first time, were being recruited by my company, to make sneakers more functional. Before that time, coaches, enthusiasts and tinkerers collaborated with traditional footwear stylists to "design" sneakers that would work better for the athletes that wore them. When I first plugged into the user-centered way of thinking about product design, it was four decades ago and I was struggling to understand functional design as it applied to footwear. This was at a time when Industrial Designers, for the first time, were being recruited by my company, to make sneakers more functional. Before that time, coaches, enthusiasts and tinkerers collaborated with traditional footwear stylists to "design" sneakers that would work better for the athletes that wore them. This quasi-functional approach was decidedly hit-or-miss. What we were trying to create was a more deliberate, evidence-based process. My part was to support the designers initiatives with research and testing. After 40 plus years of working shoulder to shoulder with three generations of talented product designers I'm still intrigued by the User Friendly perspective and see it as the best approach to innovation in sneakers and many other product categories. This book weaves its User Friendly tapestry with threads from Ergonomics, Dreyfuss's Human Factors, Bauhaus's form follows function ethic, Jane Fulton Suri's key insights, and more recently the Design of Everyday Things thinking of cognitive psychologist Don Norman, my favorite guru. Lots of anecdotes and fascinating retellings of seminal moments in design history. For the most part It’s a beautiful thing with a natural elegance to the narrative. As the story evolves and starts to encompass digital interfaces we can see how the overlapping philosophies of earlier user-centered approaches influenced these new developments. Kuang stresses the importance of metaphor in choosing a user interface, providing feedback, being polite, and the clarity of intent/action. Most of all a user friendly interface must begin and end with an understanding of the users' perception. These are realizations that knocked me back. I suppose on some level I half-understood these things before, but this book punched them up into hard-to-miss headlines that revealed to me the full-on conversational nature of effective interfaces. For these gifts, I am grateful to the authors. But I have to say they made me work for it. Ironically, the user interface of User Friendly was not very friendly. It’s very conventional and virtually devoid of visual elements. This book would have been so much more accessible and complete if the authors had acknowledged the visual primacy of human perception and filled its pages with pictures, drawings, diagrams, etc. Even some of the wonderful faces of the progenitors of these mind-expanding insights would have been nice. Without a more visual interface, I came away feeling that this incredibly interesting book simply fell short of the mark.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    Despite the relative newness of the practice of 'user-friendly' design, most of the writing and discussion about it has treated it as an ahistorical subject, with universal, unquestioned, and unchanging principles and practices. This book, intended for a general audience but satisfying for practitioners as well, is a welcome deviation from this norm. It offers a clear, insightful survey of how user experience design has been shaped by, and also helps to shape, the historical, cultural, and econo Despite the relative newness of the practice of 'user-friendly' design, most of the writing and discussion about it has treated it as an ahistorical subject, with universal, unquestioned, and unchanging principles and practices. This book, intended for a general audience but satisfying for practitioners as well, is a welcome deviation from this norm. It offers a clear, insightful survey of how user experience design has been shaped by, and also helps to shape, the historical, cultural, and economic contexts within which it operates. Kuang accomplishes all of this without ever getting bogged down in plodding technical details, or even a strictly chronological order to the narrative. Rather, he jumps deftly from era to era, never losing the reader as he deploys engaging anecdotes to introduce the major issues and perspective shifts in the field. User experience design is full of paradox and unintended consequences. The practice supposedly exists solely for the betterment of end users, but is completely subsidized and influenced by corporate entities with profit incentives less than fully aligned with the interests of those users. It exists to make life better for people by making it simpler for them, but in doing so also creates new behaviors and needs that increase life's complexity. Much good has been done through its influence, but much harm as well. But Kuang is not an apologist or a preacher. He raises the paradoxes without ever becoming heavy-handed or choosing sides, merely describing the reality and, in doing so, forcing the reader to consider and deal with their own complicity.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ed Bernard

    Unfortunately, my audiobook loan expired before I finished this book, but I got far enough along that I got the gist. It’s a review of the recent history of “user friendly” design and it highlights its points with great, richly reported examples. For example, as an example of NON user friendliness, it tells the story of 3 Mile Island, where the nuclear disaster really resulted from technicians not really understanding what the instruments reported as the situation deteriorated. Another example i Unfortunately, my audiobook loan expired before I finished this book, but I got far enough along that I got the gist. It’s a review of the recent history of “user friendly” design and it highlights its points with great, richly reported examples. For example, as an example of NON user friendliness, it tells the story of 3 Mile Island, where the nuclear disaster really resulted from technicians not really understanding what the instruments reported as the situation deteriorated. Another example is the B-17 bomber, where the control for the landing gear and the wing flaps were identical and in close proximity — many crashed because they thought they were adjusting the flaps but instead retracted the landing gear. On the other side are examples of user friendly designs like the iPhone — but, also, how it’s used in a more “Friendly” way in China where apps are not discrete but rather integrated to deliver what the user actually wants in far fewer steps. For me, the best thing about this excellent and immersive book is that it actually explained to me my son’s PhD program in User Experience, that integrates seemingly disparate fields such as child psychology and philosophy as well as the more expected cognitive science — it seems that these disciplines essentially generated the core of “user friendliness” and how people experience it in product design. Good to know! A terrific book. Grade: A

  18. 5 out of 5

    Grant Baker

    Well-written, thoughtfully researched Creating new products is difficult, especially when considering how to make them user friendly. This book looks back on the history of design to show the evolution of user friendly design. While I didn’t agree with all the authors’ conclusions not their assessment of personas, I still highly recommend this book to any designer or design-minded business person.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

    The synthesis and examples that went into this book to drive home the different sections was incredible. Being a UX practitioner (specifically in research) this book gave me so many additional perspectives into the world we are truly creating and engaging with. I think it would be very useful for people to read this book and understand how the technologies they use everyday shape their world and behavior. Well done!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Brown

    Well written with relevant examples and clear thinking. Mr Kuang isn't afraid to go deep and philosophical and his book is the better for it. I've gotten so used to reading "Business Books" that are basically just repackaging of the same obvious thoughts that it was refreshing to read a work by someone that has obviously put a lot of original thought in to their thesis.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    I thought the part where the automated car should be treated as a horse and has to give the driver feed back and gradually take the reigns is somehting to think about/ and how user friendly UX and UI ones that make using the thing more intuitive is something super important in reducing error

  22. 4 out of 5

    Skyler

    Great overview and history of design, especially in the last 100 years in America. I think this would be an interesting read for all, especially to folks who enjoy well designed products. It gets a bit too biographical at points, but the pace is pretty well kept and the chapters are well organized.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Very readable and interesting book about the history of design and its effects on our lives. A little bit too in awe of tech giants like Apple and Facebook but balanced with some criticism.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    Great refresher for current UX designers and overview for someone interested in UX!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anna Xu

    Lol I started reading this book for one of my assignments and I knew I had to stop when I read this: “To take one simple example, we have expectations of how a book “works”: It has pages of information, laid out one after the other in a sequence; to get more information, you turn the page. One key to the enduring success of the touchscreen Amazon Kindle lies in how well it has remapped that mental model; just as you turn a page in a book, you “turn” a page by swiping at an e-book.” Maybe Kuang doe Lol I started reading this book for one of my assignments and I knew I had to stop when I read this: “To take one simple example, we have expectations of how a book “works”: It has pages of information, laid out one after the other in a sequence; to get more information, you turn the page. One key to the enduring success of the touchscreen Amazon Kindle lies in how well it has remapped that mental model; just as you turn a page in a book, you “turn” a page by swiping at an e-book.” Maybe Kuang does have a point about the mental model paradigm in design in this excerpt, namely UI/UX or product design .. but I simply cannot see this success as ‘enduring’ in any shape, way or form regarding the broader social values (re: empowerment, agency, diversity, transparency, empathy, community, independence) that I think should dictate nd inform design, esp in the context of our virtually mediated future - which I think UX/UI discourse has been, and still is, very lacking in lmfao Tbh I wanted to give this two stars, but being v generous because I dnf’d this really early, like <20% in, and obviously Kuang isn’t just s*ck*ng *ppl*’s d*ck, which is good enough for me. Moreover, Kuang does a good job of unpacking core tenets of UX pretty early on (doesn’t necessarily mean I agree w them tho). So aside from my criticisms, I honestly don’t think this is the worst writing to come out of the aforementioned fields .. that being said, I still think Big Tech is evil!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steve Miller

    Good history of the movement. The physical book could've been more "user-friendly"--annoying tendency for endnotes to either have useful additional info or just a citation (with a printed-out URL--yeah, I'm gonna go type that in right away), such that I had to end up memorizing the next numbered endnote that actually had content so I wouldn't needlessly flip back to the end for nothing. I (presume) it's not the authors' fault, but the cover art had just the title, with blue dots randomly placed. Good history of the movement. The physical book could've been more "user-friendly"--annoying tendency for endnotes to either have useful additional info or just a citation (with a printed-out URL--yeah, I'm gonna go type that in right away), such that I had to end up memorizing the next numbered endnote that actually had content so I wouldn't needlessly flip back to the end for nothing. I (presume) it's not the authors' fault, but the cover art had just the title, with blue dots randomly placed. I expected some explanation--why the dots?!?--but never got one. Between sections in the book, and odd little icon that looked like an on/off toggle, but never explained. The only other visual elements were line drawings of exemplary devices at the beginning of each chapter. Minor things, but in a book about UI, I fully expected maybe more imagery to accompany the words, and for everything they DID include to HAVE A PURPOSE. I enjoyed the history, and the insights into how we can make peoples' lives better by way of their interfaces with the world. A "good read," to coin a phrase, and with a lot of thoughts you can use in whaatever work you do.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tara L. Campbell

    I recommend this book regardless of your interests; it has value for everyone. You get the historical aspects, of course, but then you get gripping examples of how the lack of design specific to human-machine interaction (3 mile island) and the exploitation of psychology (Facebook) has profound consequences for society. But my favorite part is how designers observed people overcoming obstacles in the world and built tools to make it easier, AKA: support for disabilities, which in turn made thing I recommend this book regardless of your interests; it has value for everyone. You get the historical aspects, of course, but then you get gripping examples of how the lack of design specific to human-machine interaction (3 mile island) and the exploitation of psychology (Facebook) has profound consequences for society. But my favorite part is how designers observed people overcoming obstacles in the world and built tools to make it easier, AKA: support for disabilities, which in turn made things a lot easier for everyone. Design is critical but we're so oblivious to the really good stuff that we don't realize the value until bad design pops up making life miserable. A case the author notes: Clippy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Highly recommend if you are interested in the history and interactions of humans with technology. An an accessible book, the authors bind the design process directly to the user expectation and experience. YES, we all purport to know this but this book will challenge the way you think and interact with your devices, apps and online world.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sudharsan

    3.5 rounded up

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vinicius Lima

    A huge research effort in documenting people’s interactions with products and services throughout many moments in history, leading to where we are nowadays. Very good read for anyone with an interest in human-centered design, data mining, user experience, service design, and all related fields.

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