Essential UI Resources

By Juhan Sonin on 10 January 2013

I’m often asked “Can you give me some book references for good UI and usability design?” or “What are the 10 essential resources for the new UX worker?”

There are a metric ton of design books.

Most are mediocre. Chomping through to the creamy center and identifying the best software design books is time consuming.

Here is my list.

Required for all software designers and engineers at the Invo studio:

Other classic reads:

For sketching, a few recent rags have popped up that are compelling:

Lastly, when diving into type, chew on:

For a fabulous face to face experience with a living legend of information design, spend $375 and a day at the Edward Tufte Workshop. While most of his books are unreadable (which are all included as part of the experience), the graphic examples and visual lessons are phenomenal.

… and drum roll …

I have yet to find the penultimate resource, an interface field guide, that’s for the craftsman, that’s more visual, uses real examples, that’s free, constantly evolving, under 100 pages, and fits in my pocket. It maybe an impossible task to make.
We’re pushing the Design Axioms to be just that resource.

Axioms, Education | 1 comment

Ban Lorem Ipsum

By Juhan Sonin on 12 December 2012

There is no defense of using lorem ipsum as filler text. None.
Using it is like eating junk food. Garbage in = garbage out.

There are apologists like:

And the truth tellers like:

My rant on using real data on the Digital Life podcast (starting at the 12min mark):

Here are a few rough sketches for a potential design axiom card called “Ban Lorem Ipsum”, as sketched by Sarah Kaiser.

Draft ideas for a “Ban Lorem Ipsum” Card

Ban Lorem Ipsum Draft Render. While not quite The Design, it’s a start.

I will not hire a designer who uses lorem ipsum.
I will not contract a studio who uses on it.

Ban lorem ipsum.
It’s a crutch and hazardous to your design health. Using lorem ipsum as data filler is a classic design practice that instantly screws the pooch. Planting fake data into the comps and service produces a fake product.

Design Axioms, Illustration | No comments

We Rock it (in Your Pocket)

By Juhan Sonin on 31 October 2012

“Say, there’s something different about you.
Wait a minute… is that a Design Axioms in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

Design Axioms: new and improved! Smaller, faster, cuter, and digital.

After no calls from the public and with little fanfare, we announce a free, open source, iOS version of Design Axioms, which is now available on the iTunes app store: .

Dhaval Karwa pumped out both the iPhone and iPad versions in 4 days. We’re familiar with going through the iTunes approval gauntlet and based on our previous experience with Apple, it took 6 working days to approve.

Design Axioms on the iPhone 5

Design Axioms on the iPad 3

Like the designs, the code is licensed under Apache 2 and is posted on GitHub.

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From concept sketch to production art

By Juhan Sonin on 30 August 2012

The Design Axioms started as ideas and practices (in an 8 person design group), morphed into short, memorable phrases, drawn on to papyrus and rendered in presentation software, and spread (albeit to a very limited audience) via personal performance.

That doesn’t scale.

A wall of axioms is fantastic… for the local engineering and design tribes who “live” next to the wall.

Design Axioms, Illustration | 1 comment

Life Begins at Ignite Conception

By Juhan Sonin on 23 August 2012

Design Axioms has been a 4+ year journey for me. It started as a Pecha Kucha-type talk at the O’Reilly Boston Ignite 3 in the summer of 2008. It was called the Tenets of Interface Design, consisted of 23 slides, and pitched in 5 minutes. It took place at the House of Blues in Cambridge, MA. The stage was most often occupied by jazz and rock groups but for that one evening, overrun by beer-drinking, nerdy designers and engineers.

First presentation deck for Design Axioms

This was the start of my public speaking education. I had never presented publicly and still am not uber comfortable speaking in front of crowds. Because of my ability to wander off topic and get lost, crafting a presentation takes 1 to 2 hours of prep time per minute on stage.

Juhan at Ignite Boston 3, Photo by O’Reilly producer, Rachel Ford James

Here’s the a video from that night with a younger and [slightly] cockier me: Juhan Sonin at Ignite 3 Boston

I’ve since evolved the ideas by implementing each axiom as an everyday practice at the Invo studio as well as presenting updated content at conferences and corporate venues such as OSCON (having “sex” in the title didn’t have much effect on attracting audience members), TTI Vanguard, MassChallenge, HIMSS, etc.

The card deck is the latest transformation. By asking industry veteran designers and entrepreneurs Luke Wroblewski, Andrei Herasimchuk, and Dirk Knemeyer to contribute their own software design and user interface mantras and experience, it diversifies the idea gene pool and strengthens the message.

Up next: gathering your feedback, honing and editing the current axioms, and designing deck number two.


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Welcome to the Design Axioms journal

By Juhan Sonin on 16 August 2012

After 4 years in the making, the first card set has been published as a physical deck (available via Amazon) and digital art (as seen on this site). All of the content from illustrations to words to concepts are open source, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Share, hack, remix, and make these ideas better.

The journal will reveal podcasts on individual axioms, how each card was born from sketches and matured into final art, deeper rants and open discussions on each concept, and new content and art for upcoming cards.

Where did the axioms come from?

The axioms were born from:

  1. my experience as a software designer,
  2. living each axiom in my daily, weekly, yearly evolution as a craftsman,
  3. teaching design to colleagues, customers, and students, and
  4. a need to develop a repeatable process and understandable philosophy to spread within the organizations that nurtured my growth and well-being.

There is an impedance mismatch with the design community (and with company cultures) on the skills and practices required for designing software interfaces.

Design Axioms is the bromide for design disorientation. Rather than concentrate on a single discipline within interface design (such as interaction or usability), Design Axioms takes a system approach describing the key concepts of the entire act of creating an interface from prototyping to using real data to visual design and layout to interaction patterns.

What problems does Design Axioms solve?

There are hundreds of design books on usability, HCI principles, design research, user interface patterns, and graphic design. However, there is a dearth of concise interface design advice for the craftsman, for the lone engineer trying to be the interface designer, and for IT teams struggling to develop elegant services.

Design Axioms is the analog for The Elements of Style by Strunk and White on user interface that encompasses layout, interaction, visual design, and prototyping tenets.

The designer reading these tenets should think, “This is the essence of what I should do” and they will refer to the axioms as a reference and constant reminder of good interface design practices.

What are you going to get out of Design Axioms?

  1. Don’t tell me the answer, tell me how to think about the problem.
  2. It’s a multi-disciplinary attack on interface design. Interface designers need a spectrum of skills – not just wireframing or usability analysis – to craft elegant designs. Fluency in graphic design, human-computer interaction, human factors, type setting, and many other skills are required.
  3. It’s small. It will fit in your pocket. It’s not a 500 page tome that tells me how to use checkboxes versus pull-down menus. Concept-based mantras based more on visual stories rather than pages of description allow people to quickly grok the notion and implement. Reading about visual design is counter intuitive; you need to see it… and consume and retain the ideas. 500 page text-filled bibles miss the mark. And who reads anymore?
  4. It makes us feel good to design compelling experiences. As product designers, we make design choices because it’s good for users and us (the designers). The designer behind the MacBook Pro’s auto-hiding magnetic lid hook most likely felt great about the final product: it’s a spectacularly elegant design. This is why we sweat over pixels and typography: we want to love and be proud of our work.

A special thank you

Without Dirk Knemeyer, my fabulous co-author and business partner, and Sarah Kaiser, the fantastic illustrator, the Design Axioms would still be stuck in my wetware. Now, they are a living and breathing thing. Thank you both very much.

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