BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Weinschenk, Susan M. 100 things every designer needs to know about people. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011. xi, 242,  p. ISBN 978-0-321-76753-0. $29.99/£21.99
Dirksen, Julie. Design for how people learn. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2012. xii, 259 p. ISBN 978-0-321-76843-8. $39.99
These are two quite remarkably similar books to come from the same publisher: there are differences, of course, but the overall aim of both is to show how Website design can be influenced by what we know about what happens when human psychology confronts technology. The major difference is that Weinschenk's book is directed to the Web designer in general and clearly aims to present how individual psychology affects the way people use Website, while Dirksen's book is about the design of online learning sites.
To take the most general of the two first, Weinschenk divides the '100 things' the designer should know into ten sections (although not with ten topics in each), dealing with how people see, read, remember, think, focus their attention, and are motivated; dealing with people as social animals, how they feel, the kinds of mistakes they make, and how they make decisions. Given the dominance of the world of commerce on the Web, it is not surprising that the author has these types of sites in mind when discussing the implications of these psychological issues, but the Web designer in general is likely to learn a great deal of value from the book.
If only the book designer had read the book before designing it: sadly, although each section is well-structured, with key learning points boxed or highlighted, the choice of font was a mistake. It is a rather thin sans-serif face, which presents a grey appearance on the page and its poor readability is further reduced when it has to struggle against the background colours of the boxes. I found it extremely tiring to read and I would imagine that those who buy the book will be similarly dissuaded from reading it for any length of time. It is fortunate that each of the '100 things' can be read in two or three minutes, because the eye-strain caused by longer periods of reading would be intense.
The curse of the sans-serif font also hits Dirksen's book, but the effect here is less harmful because it there is greater contrast between the font colour and the white of the paper. This makes a great deal of difference to the readability of the text, which, from the point of view of the library community is probably the more interesting of the two.
Dirksen has wide experience of designing learning systems in both industry and academia and deals with her subject from the perspectives of both the individual and his or her skill level and motivation and of the context in which the learning has to take place. The ten chapters of the book cover everything from understanding what it is that needs to be learnt to the goal of the learning process, how we remember (or forget) and what are the challenges of designing systems that take advantage of what we know about the learning process.
The Web designer will find both of these books useful, but for anyone with an interest in virtual learning environments, Dirksen's book is clearly going to be most useful.