George V. Reilly

Review: Defensive Design for the Web

Defensive Design for the Web
Title: Defensive Design for the Web
Author: 37 Signals
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
Publisher: New Riders
Copyright: 2004
Pages: 246
Keywords: pro­gram­ming, web
Reading period: 23 December, 2007 - 9 January, 2008

This book contains 40 usability guidelines for websites, ranging from Eliminate the Reset button and disable the Submit button after it’s clicked to Give an error message that’s noticeable at a glance to Be upfront about item un­avail­abi­ity. The topics include error messages, clear in­struc­tions, friendly forms, overcoming missing pages, helpful help, obstacles to conversion, and search.

When I state them that baldly, they sound obvious. But they’re not. The 37 Signals guys have amply il­lus­trat­ed each guideline with examples of sites that violated the guideline, and sites that exemplify the guideline. The examples are well chosen and bolster their points.

The book feels padded, however. They could easily have reduced the page count by two-thirds. Indeed, an earlier version of this book is available as a 17-page whitepaper. It was certainly worth the $6 that I paid for it at Half-Price Books, but I think I’d feel cheated if I had spent $25 on it.

The book refers to a companion website, De­sign­Not­ This site is no longer available, which I find un­for­giv­able. It’s such a complete con­tra­dic­tion of the principles they advocate. The Wayback Machine reveals the original site.

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