Quite a few online resources can be tapped regularly to keep you up to date on trends, studies, and best practices. Here’s a quick list of some of them:
- A List Apart. ALA is a constant source of information on user experience issues, with articles appearing all the time on code, development processes, design, users, and content. If you have a blog reader, you can simply subscribe to the main ALA RSS feed and get updated whenever new content appears.
- User Interface Engineering. UIE is a fantastic source for articles on how to design interfaces, the qualities that make interfaces good, and information on events surrounding the subject of interface design. They sometimes provide white papers and research reports that cover information about how users navigate sites, how to design for the "scent" of information, and other subjects. These papers offer great insights that normally can be earned only through difficult, time-consuming research. UIE can save you loads of time with these reports, so I highly recommend reading them instead of rediscovering the same information in other ways.
- This Is Broken. This Is Broken is the fun way to explore user experience issues. Instead of reports and articles, This Is Broken relies on reader-submitted images and explanations that describe often hilarious design flaws. My personal favorite is the listing about a children’s playground, featuring a slide that delivers children straight into the foot of a small graveyard. The graveyard’s border is less than five feet from the end of the slide, and the two photos—one from the bottom of the slide and one from the top—really show off some bad design work. (What were they thinking?)
- Boxes and Arrows. According to their web site, Boxes and Arrows is "firmly devoted to the practice, innovation, and discussion of graphic design, interaction design, and information architecture, large and small." And indeed, they do a great job of achieving this goal by featuring interviews with respected user-experience designers and information architects, articles about user research, designing better interfaces, and so on. It’s similar to UIE and A List Apart, but with different content, so you can use the three together as a robust reference library of useful information.
- Blogs. There are quite a few blogs you can subscribe to that offer insights on all these topics. Some of my favorites are Signal vs. Noise; Basement.org’s weblog; and the Yahoo! User Interface Blog, a fairly new blog about the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library and User Interface Library. Regardless of whether you use or even like Yahoo!, this is a great source of information on design patterns you can use in your own designs.
In your pursuit to design the obvious, latch onto any resource you can find and run with it. Loads of research has been done about how people work with the Web, what you can do to improve your designs, what processes can be used to achieve great application and site designs, and even how to approach the business aspects of web design and application development. Often, something already out there answers every question you might have when approaching a new design, so feel free to stand on the shoulders of giants.
To continue reading about my thoughts on user experience and designing the obvious, check out my blog. If you have any questions about this series, you can also use the contact form on my site to email me directly. In late 2006, my book Designing the Obvious will be released in coordination with Peachpit Press; the book discusses what makes web-based software great and how to achieve those qualities. Some of the book is about process, but mostly it’s about the actual character traits of good applications and how you can produce them. Keep your eyes open!