BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Bentley, Frank and Barrett, Edward. Building mobile experiences. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013. 162 p. ISBN 9780 2620 1793 0. $30.00.
The book on design of mobile applications by two experienced researchers, one from the Motorola Mobility Applied Research Center and another from the MIT programme in Writing and Humanistic Studies, is a definite success from my poing of view. I was really impressed by their collaborative effort and the resulting text.
First of all, it is clearly written and well structured along the seemingly linear design process starting with the birth of the idea and the final marketing and getting the revenue from the resulting application. It consists of ten chapters all in all. The book starts with a long introduction explaining its goal and practically each word in the title as well as what experiences the authors have in mind. The first chapter is also devoted to a more general introduction to the user-centred design approaches and their application in mobile technology building.
Thus, the sound educational principle from more general to more specific is applied in this text. The text looks into the process of generating the ideas of possible applications that can be quickel implemented in rough prototypes. These are used for testing the reactions of users and iterative development before investment of longer term efforts and more resources into the idea. This is one of more useful methods to concentrate on 'building only what you need'.
One of the chapters (5) explains the mobile technologies that can be used for designing and launching the mobile applications. I was least interested in this particular bit of text and only skipped over the main headings, but my lack of interest in this case is explained by the fact that I am not working on any mobile apps. For anyone engaged or studying this area the fifth chapter will be as important as any other.
My attention was drawn to the actual design process and especially to the involvement of users and their role in it. The elements of interaction design from the idea and conceptual model to interaction models, flows and screens were useful even for me, though I am collaborating with information system designers for a number of years. And it was not the fact that mobile applications are so very different, on the contrary, the combination of general principles and particular details increased the understanding of this fascinating design process.
The most important chapters for me were the usability evaluation and field testing. The difference betwee the work in laboratories and real life settings, between small experimental samples and scaling the application for thousands and thousands of users cannot be underestimated. These chapters are based on sound experience and methodology of working with users and understanding them. The proper attention is paid to the mobile environments, as not only technological, but also human features of those can affect the use of a particular application. It should be taken into account if the use will remain within the boundaries of a particular social group or some wider community or it will be open for anyone willing to join it.
I have also appreciated the final chapter that relates to the issues of ethics in case of large scale research, user understanding of use conditions and licences, marketing issues and the revenue models. Each of these issues deserves a separate book, but they should never be forgotten by the designers of technology, and they were not in this case. Each chapter, including this one, is illustrated by interesting examples from the experience of both authors. This makes the book instructive in a lively way and the reader feels its relevance to oneself finding familiar applications among the examples.
All in all, I think that this is a serious and attractive introductory text to a mobile applications design, but not only. Some of the principles are applicapble in other contexts as well. I would recommend that any young and even experienced designer of new applications would read it, especially, the rapid prototyping and user involvement parts.