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Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design

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"Sketching User Experiences" approaches design and design thinking as something distinct that needs to be better understood-by both designers and the people with whom they need to work- in order to achieve success with new products and systems. So while the focus is on design, the approach is holistic. Hence, the book speaks to designers, usability specialists, the HCI community, product managers, and business executives. There is an emphasis on balancing the back-end concern with usability and engineering excellence (getting the design right) with an up-front investment in sketching and ideation (getting the right design). Overall, the objective is to build the notion of informed design: molding emerging technology into a form that serves our society and reflects its values.

Grounded in both practice and scientific research, Bill Buxton s engaging work aims to spark the imagination while encouraging the use of new techniques, breathing new life into user experience design.
Covers sketching and early prototyping design methods suitable for dynamic product capabilities: cell phones that communicate with each other and other embedded systems, "smart" appliances, and things you only imagine in your dreamsThorough coverage of the design sketching method which helps easily build experience prototypes-without the effort of engineering prototypes which are difficult to abandonReaches out to a range of designers, including user interface designers, industrial designers, software engineers, usability engineers, product managers, and othersFull of case studies, examples, exercises, and projects, and access to video clips that demonstrate the principles and methods"

443 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2007

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About the author

Bill Buxton

6 books28 followers
Trained as a musician, Bill Buxton began using computers over thirty years ago in his art. This early experience, both in the studio and on stage, helped develop a deep appreciation of both the positive and negative aspects of technology and its impact. This increasingly drew him into both design and research, with a very strong emphasis on interaction and the human aspects of technology. He first came to prominence for his work at the University of Toronto on digital musical instruments and the novel interfaces that they employed. This work in the late 70s gained the attention of Xerox PARC, where Buxton participated in pioneering research in collaborative work, interaction techniques and ubiquitous computing. He then went on to become Chief Scientist of SGI and Alias|Wavefront, where he had the opportunity to work with some of the top filmmakers and industrial designers in the world. He is now principal researcher at Microsoft Corp., where he splits his time between research and helping make design a fundamental pillar of the corporate culture.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 75 reviews
Profile Image for Danien.
44 reviews
March 11, 2010
The title suggests that this book would be about designing user experiences in a holistic approach, as well as methods and techniques to brainstorm and prototype them, as opposed to just developing user interfaces.

However, it ends up meandering (for over 100 pages), trying to explain what the author's definition of "sketching" is, reiterating the importance of design throughout the book, and lamenting about how design isn't appreciated as a true industry. The author presents some real world examples of design brainstorming and research methods he has encountered but never really discusses the HOW in depth, resulting in anecdotal coverage.

I expected to learn useful techniques, not a 400+ page persuasive essay on what design is and why it is important. I wouldn't have picked up this book if I didn't think so. I kept waiting for the meaty parts, but by page 200, there was a sinking feeling it wasn't going to come.
Profile Image for Ken.
48 reviews16 followers
November 1, 2012
Bar none, the most illuminating volume on design process that I have ever read. This leveled me up. If you work in design in any capacity, you need to read this, especially if you didn't go through an academic program for it.

For producers and engineers, this is just as valuable in helping to describe the correct role for design in the production process, and to help you understand how to best facilitate, use, and enable your designers to achieve the results you want.

In short, if you're even reading this review, you need to read the book.
Profile Image for Adam Wiggins.
250 reviews93 followers
June 9, 2015
Rambly, but full of great insights for anyone who creates products (designers, engineers, product managers).

A selection of my Kindle highlights:

## Notation

Notation is a tool of thought. A problem properly represented is largely solved.

## Sketches

Disposable: If you can’t afford to throw it away when done, it is probably not a sketch. The investment with a sketch is in the concept, not the execution. By the way, this doesn’t mean that they have no value, or that you always dispose of them. Rather, their value largely depends on their disposability.

Ambiguity: Sketches are intentionally ambiguous, and much of their value derives from their being able to be interpreted in different ways, and new relationships seen within them, even by the person who drew them.

The fact that the sketch is, well, sketchy—that is, leaves a lot out, or leaves a lot to the imagination—is fundamental to the process. My take on this is: If you want to get the most out of a sketch, you need to leave big enough holes.

As my hand sketched the lines, my mind revealed a whole new method of thinking that I had not known before. Being able to visualize things gave me a tool that I could use in all facets of life. What happened to my mind was much more important than the sketches I produced.

Sketches are a byproduct of sketching.

The activity of sketching could be extended to other forms than just pencil on paper. The key here is to understand that sketching as I mean it has more to do with exercising the imagination and understanding (mental and experiential) than about the materials used.

Sketches serve to suggest, propose, and question. Part and parcel of this is to provoke scrutiny and criticism of the ideas that they represent. They need to be challenged and tested from all angles.

## Ambient awareness

Hanging work in the environment lets it “bake in.” It is there in the background, and becomes part of the ecology of the studio. You live with it for a while, and with familiarity grows either insight or perhaps contempt.

## Annotations

From the designer’s point of view, Annotation helps the viewer understand the specific ideas that are not readily apparent in the illustration itself. From the critic’s perspective, annotation allows an outsider to comment on the particulars of the design.

## Sketchbooks

We are often very self conscious about proposing ideas because they are not thought through and hence embarrassing ourselves in front of others. The sketchbook is an environment where it can be safe for us to articulate these thoughts to ourselves.

## Critique

It is better to have your preliminary work critiqued by your colleagues while there is still time to do something about it—no matter how difficult the criticism might be—than to have the finished project torn apart by strangers in public.

## Speed of technology

The first mouse was built by Doug Engelbart and William English in 1964. I saw my first mouse seven years later in 1971. Mice were in use at Xerox PARC by 1973 with the first Alto computer. The first commercially available computer that came with a mouse was, I believe, the 3 Rivers Systems PERQ, which was released in 1980. The Macintosh was released with a mouse in 1984, making them more widely known, but it was not until the release of Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system that they became ubiquitous. That is to say, it took 30 years for something whose benefits were plainly visible to make the transition from first demonstration to broad usage!

If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old!

## Thinking ahead

Even when designing for the immediate future, we must do our best to anticipate the future into which our design has to evolve. I characterize this as walking with one’s head in the clouds and feet deeply entrenched in the mud.

## User testing with paper prototypes

Using that sketch, expert users were asked to perform various tasks that involved the keyboard. However, as can be heard on the video, they frequently asked questions like, “Which keypad?” or “Now what keypad do you mean?” or “Where is the keypad?” This prompted the designers to change the position and layout of the keypad, as per the second image. When this revised design was subjected to the same tests, the questions about the keypad simply disappeared.

## Involving people

Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.

## Demos

Demos are often great and inspiring. They can be flashy and easy to write about. Demos are a hugely valuable component of research, design, and innovation. But they are only one part of a means to an end, and certainly not the end in itself. If the reward is for the demo, that is, if the demo is the focus, then it gets elevated to a stature that overshadows the underlying concepts and insights that its existence is ostensibly to elucidate. Seeing this happening triggers one of my more impassioned cries: “Show-and-tell“ is not a legitimate form of research.

...without the accompanying analysis, reflection, projection, hypothesis formulation, and testing, what one gets is a shotgun-type splattering of isolated demos that are far more suited to fundraising than they are to constructing a body of knowledge, or experience on which we can build anything solid.

## Working together

The biases of our culture are all toward the cult of the individual. Our popular media are all about the superstar or the genius. But having had the privilege of working with world-class performers in sports, science, academia, the arts, business, and politics, I will tell you what I think. This whole cult of the individual is a superficial sham, and that following it blindly is causing us to throw away precious resources.

The world works through mutual exploitation by consenting adults.

The “renaissance team”: In today’s world of specialization, the problems are such as to require a great deal of depth in each of a range of disciplines. We have already mentioned a few: business, design, engineering, marketing, manufacturing, and science. No individual can possess all these skills at the level that is required to execute in a competitive way.

Through a heterogeneous group, you inherently extend the range of experience that you can draw on.

Back in kindergarten, little Billy would come home from school with a glowing note from the teacher, with five gold stars, saying “Little Billy plays well with others.” Loving such praise, Billy goes on the next year searching for more of the same. But from grade one on, through the rest of his formal schooling, do you know what that same behaviour r was called: cheating. Collective problem solving is not a significant part of our education. Virtually all rewards and examinations are about individual performance.

## Thinking big

...an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective.

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
Profile Image for Alexis Morris.
29 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2009
I think the author is very long-winded and has a hard time getting to the point.. which I think is "sketching a lot of ideas and getting lots of feedback is good for ideation." You don't need a whole book to say this, especially one that goes off-topic so much. I think if you are already a designer, this book is just preaching to the choir and wont teach you anything new. I know the author is very smart and well respected, but this book just didn't reflect that.
Profile Image for Carrie.
237 reviews5 followers
January 30, 2009
You know how in high school English, you learned how to write a central thesis statement and then write supporting information around your thesis?

Well, this book has a great central thesis. And some of the supporting information is very interesting. But it gets pretty smushy the rest of the way, much more a rambling exploration of the history of design than a book about, well, sketching user experiences.

It's worth a read, but it would have been a much better article than book.
Profile Image for Vuk Trifkovic.
511 reviews41 followers
March 4, 2011
Good, but far more of a theoretical treatise than it sounds from the title. Still, bit of a classic, although if you've read lot of contemporary UX stuff you'll find either known already or intuitively right. Of course, Buxton was one of the originators of such ideas so always worth a read...
Profile Image for om.
20 reviews15 followers
September 13, 2019
This is the first time I read a +400 pages book completely and I enjoyed every second of it. As a CS student, I'm amazed of how much it shapes your vision of design and HCI, giving you a whole new perspective as you gain knowledge of a vast bibliography of history, art and design books. I fell in love once again with knowledge. Every page is worth the reading but specially that last chapter that closed the book with an invitation to make your dreams come true.

And I'll do it. I'm inspired. A life-changing book.
11 reviews
September 21, 2014
Starts off slowly, but it does pick up. "Superficial hand-waving" as Bill Buxton himself describes it, the first half of the book just sprawls with concepts that are way abstract to grasp or apply in practical situtations for any aspiring or established designer. The case study on Apple perfectly encapsulates what the remainder of the book preaches. Sketching User Experiences offers a thought-provoking view on design thinking, let alone sketching and ideation. The examples are extremely relevant and Bill does a wonderful job of discussing various techniques employed in the past to literally put ideas out on the table, regardless of the medium, within the social and physical context. The term 'Design' is vastly misunderstood, as is the role of the designer within organizations and very much so, society in general. Definitely a must read for interaction designers, as the overwhelming majority are discussions and observations on techniques used to "sketch" natural user interfaces, software, and digital products.
Profile Image for Sean Howard.
Author 1 book5 followers
December 1, 2008
A wonderful look at sketching and how it applies to problem solving, creativity and design thinking. A bit focused on industrial design in some places but worth a read. My favorite part is his story about the ceramics profession which I paraphrased about here:

Profile Image for Andrew Milmoe.
3 reviews3 followers
November 1, 2008
Fantastic book. Often designers do not create the right level of fidelity for a prototype. The book got me thinking about what questions a prototype is trying to resolve... ensuring that they are created as quickly as possible, while still answering the important questions.
Profile Image for Kars.
341 reviews42 followers
February 7, 2016
My number one favourite book on user experience design, interaction design or whichever term you prefer. The central premise, that without sketching there is no design, is so profound. It is hard to overstate the importance of making an effort to understand it but more importantly to practice it.
Profile Image for Egle Kristensen.
13 reviews3 followers
September 28, 2011
A great book about user experience in general and how skecthing could improve creative side of interaction design.
Profile Image for Alper Çuğun.
Author 1 book82 followers
December 8, 2015
This is one of the best design books out there. That it is meandering and not directly applicable makes it only better.
Profile Image for Akshay Bakshi.
47 reviews
November 19, 2016
If you're serious about design or want to understand the design process and its importance, this is a good read.
Profile Image for Brad Needham.
45 reviews
July 11, 2017
Other readers have pointed out two weaknesses of the book 1) it's a bit rambling, covering a grab bag of loosely-connected topics that were of interest to the author. 2) it's dated: the past 10 years have seen major changes in technology, hot topics for products, and methods of design and product development that render some parts of the book irrelevant or quaint.

That said, I found this book valuable for its articulation of what is sketching vs. prototyping and its numerous examples of methods of sketching user experiences (vs. rapid prototyping). Its list of qualities of a sketch should be on every designer's wall. It changed my point of view about prototypes vs. sketches, advocating for sketches as very quick provocations of thought and conversation rather than "is this the right experience?" tests or calls to action. The author hits his stride in the chapters giving concrete examples of sketching methods used by a wide variety of design teams - I'll keep the book on my shelf for that alone.

So I recommend reading this book by recognizing that it's over a decade old, and by letting the topics flow over you rather than expecting everything to lead to a single point. I think you'll find useful and thought provoking sections regardless of your level of skill and experience.
3 reviews
January 16, 2019
It was probably much more ground breaking at the time it was written. But reading it today - out of its original context - I imagine it is only relevant for people just getting in to design. Even then, despite the occasional fun anecdote, it really takes it time at getting to the point. I think I would've gained more from the book it was written in 60 pages instead of 420.

I was a little disappointed to see, that the book doesn't convey a lot of examples on how to convey user experience (like how a beginner can sketch a flow, how to draw a sketch of a website with emphasis on what the experience should be). Instead it shows a lot of examples of different types of sketches and prototypes - which is also fine and at times inspirational. But I had expected more "how to sketch" and less "this is a sketch, and this is another type of sketch".

I'm not going to recommend this book, as there would be better places to start if getting in to sketching for UX/Design.
Profile Image for Jonathan Glasmeyer.
13 reviews2 followers
January 4, 2018
Minus: Longwinded, stream-of-concious-y, no real structure.
Plus: I like the anecdotal style, the message of the importance of sketching, the three-dimensionality in which the concept of sketching is explored through various contexts. I also like the thoughts on experience design and "design in the wild".
Profile Image for Anirudh Madhavan.
1 review1 follower
June 18, 2017
Really awesome even if you already know about sketching and User Experiences. I got a good primer for my UX growth and I feel it's worth at least a read and at most put them into use in your techniques.
Profile Image for Nick.
2 reviews
July 18, 2019
I love Buxtons perspective on sketching even though his opinions can be agreed or disagreed upon in terms of how to interpret a sketch and prototype. Nonetheless, he challenges the thought of them making them useful to one's own insight.
Profile Image for Maisey Jay.
75 reviews
January 16, 2020
I originally thought the book would be about improving drawing. I was wrong but not disappointed. I’m not a designer or engineer so it was especially interesting to learn how these professionals effect everyday life through consumerism.
Profile Image for Kathy Hardy.
28 reviews1 follower
May 8, 2017
some amazing quotes and views about the sketching process and its relation to design.
Profile Image for Dea Buus.
16 reviews1 follower
January 31, 2019
I think this book was great once. Now most of the ideas are ingrained in UX and design, and don't seem very novel. I had a hard time getting through the book, and in the end chose not to finish it.
Profile Image for Jack.
15 reviews
September 8, 2020
"new" product is far more valuable than "n+1" product for an organization. One of the "new"-product strategy, according to the book, is M&A.
Profile Image for Phil Keys.
5 reviews5 followers
February 15, 2017
Excellent book that discusses the ideation phases of product development. Through sketching, and specifically the fidelity of sketches, you can get better feedback from both your teammates and potential users of your work.
Profile Image for Glen.
29 reviews2 followers
September 5, 2015
I am completely new to the world of UX, so I was looking for something that would be more technique focused rather than purely theoretical. The theory is valuable, make no mistake about that, and the author has some great insights when it comes to thinking about the design process, but it really is just a book on sketching methods, or rather the theory behind the methods. The author appears quite intent on hammering home the idea that sketches should be quick, disposable, and leave the design open to suggestion and change - he reiterates the same throughout. I got the sense that the entire book was really about making this point. I did like the real-world examples he touched upon, they made the book engaging, rather than a long winded theoretical treatise, much like Don Norman's books. If you are looking for something to introduce you to sketching/rapid prototyping methods, this is a good read, but if you want to polish your skills, I would give it a pass. For someone like me, it is worth reading - I am a neophyte and need the exposure - but for seasoned designers, it might prove to be old hat.
Profile Image for Fab.
188 reviews16 followers
March 15, 2015
This book was recommended to me by an interaction designer I admire. I expected it to be a great introduction to the world of user experience and interaction design (which it was) but it also did so much more than that. I realised that the design approach to certain problems could be applied to other parts of my life. There are things in here that could make me a better programmer, improve my working environment, and techniques to improve decision making. It's a really fascinating book and well worth reading if you are involved with any part of the product development process or consider yourself a creator in the world of technology. I now have a better understanding of how the design process works. I understand the importance and definition of "sketching". This book will continue to serve as a reference guide when I need to look up certain techniques used to demonstrate interfaces that haven't been properly built yet.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 75 reviews

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