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Review: Winter Bookshelf

Source: UN, 29 November 2005

Another year, another pile of books: here are some of the ones that caught my interest over the last year...

A book that has just turned up on my desk is "21st Century Game Design" by Chris Bateman and Richard Boon (Charles River Media, ISBN: 1584504293). The book deliberately sets itself up in opposition to the designing-for-me ethos the authors see at large in the games industry. It runs through various psychological perspectives and pays extensive attention to the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicators as a way of moving beyond "Hardcore" players to embrace a wider audience and their gaming desires. Extraordinarily, despite its introductory feel and a whole chapter on the importance of interface design with some sensible principles to follow, there is no reference to testing with users. Apart from this neglect of process - and it is a fairly big omission - the book has many interesting features to make reading it a pleasure.

Another book full of delightful nuggets is "Wired for Speech: How Voice Activates and Advances the Human-Computer Relationship" by Clifford Nass and Scott Brave (MIT Press, ISBN: 0262140926). Heavier in its research and references than most of the books that cross this desk, it is still truly compelling in style. Nass draws on years of his own work into what makes something appear meaningfully human. There is too much detail to do justice to it here but, if you are interested in voice-based interfaces, this is a goodie.

Phil Turner and Elisabeth Davenport have collected a number of essays about "Spaces, Spatiality and Technology" together (Springer, ISBN: 1402032722). The whole is less than the sum of its parts - it is still clearly the product of an interesting workshop rather than a designed book - but the parts are good reading. In particular, they capture the new spirit of Human-Computer Interaction that goes beyond discussing ubiquity to looking at people's experiences of the spaces in which technology is coming to be situated.

"Thumb Culture: The Meaning of Mobile Phones for Society" is another edited collection, by Peter Glotz, Stefan Bertschi and Chris Locke (Transcript, ISBN: 3899424034). Amongst other essays, it contains longer pieces by some of the researchers whose work has been reviewed on UN over the last few months, such as Jonathan Donner and Jane Vincent. The book offers three extensive perspectives: an international section, with studies of culturally-specific practice; a section on how mobile phones are affecting identity and relationships; and one that focusses primarily on the industry and coming design. There is also a survey, unique to the book, on the social consequences of mobile phones. It is a useful addition to the literature growing up round mobile phone practices and their meaning to people, and offers suggestions for where to go next in this research area.

The next book takes a method rather than a field as its focus. "The Semiotic Engineering of Human-Computer Interaction" by Clarisse Sieckenius de Souza (MIT Press, ISBN: 0262042207) is a complex work that looks at how people make meaning out of what they encounter. Following her arguments results in a different way of viewing interaction as a communicative process - a fascinating excursion for the more experienced researcher.

"Understanding Your Users: A Practical Guide to User Requirements: Methods, Tools and Techniques" by Kathy Baxter and Catherine Courage (Morgan Kaufmann, ISBN: 1558609350) is a beautifully colour-coded and thoroughly applied book, about as different from the de Sousa as one can get and still be working in the field of technology and use. It takes the reader through designing and running a user requirements activity in the kind of detail that makes it rather like a cookbook. The only thing that might deter the novice from keeping it with them at all times is the sheer bulk of it.

To finish, there are two second editions worth mentioning. "Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data" by Herbert J. Rubin and Irene S. Rubin (Sage, ISBN: 0761920757) has been rewritten and updated to carry more information on using software in interviewing. The book is a good introduction to interviewing in depth and its re-release perhaps recognises the increasing value placed on qualitative data as interest in experience replaces a concern only for performance metrics.

Another book to reappear in new splendour is "Cost-Justifying Usability: An Update for the Internet Age", the collection edited by Randolph G. Bias and  Deborah J. Mayhew (Morgan Kaufmann, ISBN: 0120958112) which broke new ground on its original release.  Only four of 14 chapters are repeated from the last edition and the new ones take on board websites, intranets and the promise of new applications of greater complexity.