Birth of a Book: Part 3

Read parts 1 and 2.

The book proposal was comprised of 24 questions categorized into six sections:

  1. Author and Title Information
  2. Subject Matter
  3. Manuscript Information
  4. The Market
  5. Competition
  6. Reviews

The very first question asked for several tentative titles and subtitles. This ended up being the most difficult decision about the book. My criteria for a good title was completely different from the publisher’s. I wanted a title that was interesting and fun—something that would intrigue a potential reader. Some of my favorite design book titles are Stop Stealing Sheep, See What I Mean, Make It So, and Form Design: Filling in the Blanks. I was proposing titles such as Sitting in the Driver’s Seat and Working with Developers for Fun and Profit with subtitles like Production Ready Web Design and Better Results Through Tight Integration with Your Development Team.

The publisher, on the other hand, was concerned with SEO and wanted to have UX in the title, along with either Design or Development. I was being given suggestions like UX Professional’s Guide to Web Design and Integrating UX and Web Design. They were mostly generic, and I didn’t feel that they gave a very good description of the book’s content. Besides that, they were boring. However, there were two suggestions that I thought had some potential.

Bridging UX and Web Design wasn’t quite right. Web design is part of UX, or UX is part of web design, depending on your perspective. They don’t need to be bridged. But, the book is, in large part, about bridging design and development. The second title suggestion with merit was UX and Web Development: Better Results through Integration with Your Development Team. It’s not worded particularly well, but it’s getting to the meat of the matter.

We bounced a number of thoughts back and forth. Mostly joking, I threw out The Unicorn Book, imagining an O’Reilly styled cover. Eventually, I had the idea of morphing the two suggestions the publisher had made, and we word-smithed the subtitle into Bridging UX & Web Development: Better results through team integration. The bridging metaphor was enough to satisfy my criteria, and the publisher got the words UX and Development in there. The subtitle speaks to the key goal of the book.

To be continued…

National Highway Safety Comparison 2011

The most recent project in my data visualization class had students designing small multiple visualizations. According to Edward Tufte, in his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information:

Well-designed small multiples are

  • inevitably comparative
  • deftly multivariate
  • shrunken, high-density graphics
  • usually based on a large data matrix
  • drawn almost entirely with data-ink
  • efficient in interpretation
  • often narrative in content, showing shifts in the relationship between variables as the index variable changes (thereby revealing interaction or multiplicative effects).

Tatsu Johnson successfully met these criteria in his chart visualizing highway safety.

Obviously, you can’t make much out of that. First I’ll give you his description at the top of the chart. Then I’ll show you a few details.

This chart compares the highway safety of all 50 states in the US. Fatalities, drivers and population, as well as the ratio between fatalities/population, are represented as a percentage of the most dangerous states. The lower the percentage of the fatalities/drivers and fatalities/population ratio, the safer the states are in comparison to other states. The ones with the higher percentages are the most dangerous to drive in. SOURCE: Google public data, U.S. Highway Statistics.

Tatsu has employed star charts to represent each state. Every spoke represents one of the variables.

Looking at California, you can see that there are a high number of fatalities, but this is to be expected, given that the state has a large population and a lot of drivers. The most important values in understanding safety, as Tatsu explained, are the two ratios, which are average.

Other points of interest he points out are highlighted in red and green.

Connecticut and Massachusetts rank among the most dangerous states in the US with the highest percentage of fatalities per driver/population.

Mississippi, North Dakota and Wyoming are the safest states, with the best fatality per driver/population ratio.

I guess Tatsu felt that including the star template behind each state provided a better measure. I would argue that they are unnecessary, and in fact, make it more difficult to see the data shapes. The borders are also unnecessary, but were a convenient way to bring attention to states of particular note. These are minor issues in an otherwise beautifully executed visualization.

DesignAyear 7

Today, I turn 40. That means I’ve been writing DesignAday for seven years now. The past year has been an eventful one, what with the publishing of Dan Saffer’s Microinteractions book and the writing of my own. Bridging UX and Web Development will be published on July 15th, so the coming year promises to be most interesting.

Here are the posts that have been the most popular in the last year (though many have been written in past years) based on page views reported by Google Analytics. 

  1. Designers Toolbelt: Acorn & Pixelmator vs. Photoshop
  2. The series of IxDn00b posts.
  3. Design Pattern: Multi-select
  4. Back to Basics: Icons vs. Text
  5. Why Interaction Design?
  6. In the Details: Too Few Buttons
  7. Design Pattern: Undo/Redo
  8. Design Definitions and Relationships Realized by Visual Data
  9. Back to Basics: Disable or Hide?
  10. Touch My Shag

I’m often asked how I can manage writing as much as I do for as long as I have. It’s not easy, and it often reduces the amount of sleep I get, but it has been so rewarding! So, here’s to another year of DesignAday chock full of delicious design goodness. I hope you’ll join me.


If you visit DesignAday, you’ll notice that it looks different from the way it was a couple days ago. Tumblr told me yesterday that it set my blog to the default template because it detected some suspicious code in my custom template. So, now I’m forced to redesign my blog. Until I make the time, the default template will have to suffice. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, so maybe it’s a good thing. It’s still awfully annoying.

99 Designs Done Dirt Cheap

99 Designs is a web-based service that provides a place for people to post “contests” in which designers can compete by creating designs for the contest briefs. The contest creator picks the winner, who gets paid for their work. The perceived benefit for the person or business creating a contest is that they get to choose from dozens of possible designs. The supposed benefit for the designers is that they can get their work in front of a bunch of potential clients and get paid. This is what we refer to as “spec work” (speculative work), and professional designers frown upon it. The practice is bad for the people participating and bad for our industry as a whole.

I’ve made it a topic of discussion in my Design Issues class the past few times I’ve taught it. Lately, 99 Designs has been advertising on the TWIT network, and it pains me every time I hear Leo Laporte lauding the benefits. Let’s do a little math.

99 Designs boasts that they have a “community” of 293,556 designers. They also advertise that they made $2,229,376 in payouts to those designers last month. Wow, over two million! This must be a great way for designers to make some dough. Let’s say every one of their designers was equally successful. That would be $7.59 per designer. I don’t think I could live on that for a month. Of course, it’s not paid out equally. Only the designers that win get paid anything. So, what is actually happening is that there are a whole bunch of designers that make absolutely nothing in a month and a relative few that make several hundred dollars. A large project, like a significant website design, may pay a few thousand, but for those, you are competing against over 100 entries. The odds of winning a contest are slim. The odds of consistently winning contests are even slimmer. Any designer is going to end up doing a lot of work that they don’t get paid for in the hopes that the next one will be their lucky day. That’s no way to make a living. It sounds more like a gambling addiction.

So, it’s not so good for the designers. What about the clients? Well, if you are really just looking for something cheap, because you can’t afford to hire a professional, then yes, this will benefit you. But know this: a professional designer is going to work to understand your needs thoroughly and tailor a solution that is specific to you, your organization, your product, etc. If it’s a book cover, they’re going to read the book, not just work off of a couple paragraphs that give a high level overview. If it’s a logo, they are going to work closely with you over the entire course of the project, not just “polish the designs over 7 days”, as is stated on the 99 Designs homepage. They aren’t going to make decisions solely based on what they think you are going to like, but consider all of the variables that will make the artifact being designed more or less successful. When you hire a professional designer, you are going to benefit from a process through which you will develop a meaningful, rewarding designer-client relationship.

Before participating in 99 Designs or one of the similar spec work services, I encourage you to read Grace’s article, How I Quit Working for 99Designs, Crowdspring and Mycroburst. Also, see AIGA’s position on spec work and NO!SPEC, a site devoted to educating the public about spec work.

The Birth of a Book: Part 2

Read Part 1

So, several days after Interaction 13, I received a “short book” proposal form. The Acquisitions Editor was on the fence as to what format the book should be. I was given the options of a “short, concise book” to be marketed as a hands-on, practical guide, or a “short format project”. They sounded like the same thing to me, but it turned out that the former would be around 200 pages, while the latter would be 120-140. That’s the difference between a typical book from Rosenfeld Media and one from A Book Apart.

Having never written a book before, I really didn’t have any idea how to estimate the number of pages it would be. We decided to shoot for 200. At the same time, I suggested including information from my talk, Working with Developers for Fun and Profit, making the book a blend of practical, professional insight and tangible, technical instruction. So, I started putting together my proposal, which was quite a bit of work in and of itself. It took me just under four months to complete, though I admit I wasn’t dedicating much time to it.

To be continued…


One of the benefits of writing DesignAday is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of you. I spent a pleasant evening Friday night with Rohan Singh, a bright MHCI graduate student at CMU. He has been following the blog for a few years, but hadn’t realized until very recently that I lived in the Pittsburgh area. He asked if I’d be willing to meet him for coffee and let him pick my brain. I was more than happy to do so.

We talked about my job and the kind of work I do. We talked quite a bit about the value of visual design skills and how to improve them. We talked about what agencies are looking for in new hires, the importance of good writing skills, and the need for soft skills. We discussed data visualization, the genius designer mentality of traditional graphic design, and the need for critique when teaching yourself a new design skill. We touched on books about typography, Nathan Yau’s blog, Flowing Data, and the courses I’ve taught at WVU. We even discovered that we have both done work for Eaton. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, and Rohan was most appreciative.

I guess there are two points I want to make that were inspired by the meet up:

  1. If you have questions about design, don’t be afraid to ask someone that you respect. There are a lot of us that are willing, even eager, to impart our knowledge and experience on those new to the field.
  2. There is a huge value in, and great need for, professional designers sharing their expertise with students. If you are a faculty member, take advantage of those of us that are willing to share. If you are a professional who has the opportunity to share, please be generous with your time.