The Three Faces of About Face

I bought my copy of Alan Cooper's classic About Face in 1995. I remember poring over it, studying its excellent advice, reveling in its focus on the hot new UI paradigms standardized in Windows 95-- toolbars, menus with icons, tabbed dialogs, and so forth. Seems quaint now, if not borderline obsolete, but this was 12 whole years ago. That's almost a lifetime in computer dog-years.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Hi Jeff,

Its an interesting coincidence that you post this now as I’m a CS student who’s currently looking into the books we’re supposed to buy for the next semester. One of the books is about interaction design and here you are claiming to have the holy grail of said subject. I don’t know if you, or anyone else reading this, know of the book “Jenny Preece, Yvonne Rogers Helen Sharp (2002) Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction” but if you can tell me how the two books compare I would be mightily happy.

I’d much prefer to have a good book I can refer to in the future than a mediocre book that fits better with the course, if possible.

Btw, it’s my first post on this awesome site. Keep up the good work Jeff.

Hey Jeff,

Alright, I bought the book as well as joined Amazon’s Prime Membership thing. I hope you get the affiliate credit you deserve! :slight_smile:

I’m struggling right now with needing to simplify user interfaces for a fairly large C# rewrite of a 7 year old data intense VB6 project. If this book is as good as you say it is and is able to help me to think differently and make this project possible (by the due date of Jan 1, ack), then you better believe I’ll take more of your recommendations seriously when I see them! PR0F1T!!1!!1!! :slight_smile:

Anyways, take care Jeff. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

I sleep now. Can’t wait to start reading tomorrow. :slight_smile:

Does About Face 3 go into any detail about the Ribbon? It’s something I’m using more and more of in our front end designs and there are a good couple of questions about grouping into pagegroups or tabs.


From looking at the index, it appears that there are exactly three pages that deal with the “ribbon.” Although, my understanding of this book is that it is more geared towards the concepts and theory of user interface and interaction design, such as what advantages and disadvantages the ribbon might give you when used within your application… not actually how to use the controls themselves (especially considering that the ribbon is, currently, a 3rd party control, and the nuts and bolts will be different depending on which 3rd party company you choose).

Interesting. I found v2.0 a bit annoying, in that I couldn’t seem to get past the (seemingly, to my addled long-term memory at least) constant puffs for the consultancy and methodology.

The original book, however dated it is in technical terms, was a major influence on me in terms of thinking about interface design. As a sufferer of several appalling UIs at work I can only wish more people had read it. Ray Ozzie, for one: Lotus Notes is my biggest tormentor.

That said, I’ll probably get v3.0 now that I know about it (for which my bank account doesn’t thank you). And yes, I thought “Inmates” was good too.

While the Cooper marketing department might disagree, I don’t know if “The Inmates Are Running The Asylum” is that necessary anymore, as the third edition of “About Face” incorporates many of its ideas. I believe the key insight in “Asylum” was the concept of personas (considering how real users will use the software and developing for them), and personas are incorporated into the third edition of “About Face”. The introduction to this edition seems to indicate that this book is also the successor to “Inmates”: “People who have read earlier editions of ‘About Face’ or ‘The Inmates Are Running the Asylum’ will find new and updated information about design methods and principles here.”

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t useful information in “Inmates”, but it’s probably more interesting for historical reasons.

Thanks for your recommendation .

I love “code complete” and many of the books you have mentioned. Have you read “Debugging the development process”. That book is great! Full of antedotes from Microsoft that apply to managing any project whether it is with many people or just you.

I bought it last month, but it had to wait until I finished Dino Esposito book on ASP.NET AJAX. I just started reading About Face, but I have to see I find myself skipping the first and second part (mostly theory) because the third part is much more practical. The quality is decent, but the cover will ‘curl over’ no matter what you do.

Oh, and it heavy!

Interesting observations. I loved the original About Face, and I thought Inmates had some interesting points, but mostly was a long advertisement for his UI consulting services. I was looking forward to version 2.0 of About Face, but found that it mostly incorporated a whole lot of the stuff from Inmates, and diluted the good information that was found in v1.0. There was a lot more, “developers are incapable of doing this stuff, only we highly paid consultants can do it right,” and a lot less “here is why this doesn’t work, and here are some ideas of how it could be changed to make it work better.” If it’s not obvius, I was pretty underwhelmed with AF2.0, and am not going to rush out to get 3.0.

“Disks are a hack, not a design feature”

Yet users still have to fuss about with the location and timing of disk writes.

I’ll have to get the new version. Thanks for the heads up!

Coopers books are decent - but he can be condescending. The best book I’ve ever read on UI design is “Designing Visual Interfaces” - there’s nothing in it about persona’s - it just gives you the visual design tools that your artists (should) already know. No matter how good your persona writing skills are - if your users can’t understand your pages then you are hosed. DVI is just about getting the interface “skin” correct - but you still have to do a lot of what Cooper says.

Thanks for the kind words Jeff. Ive been the editor on the last 2 editions on About Face, and was the editor on Inmates when I was with Sams.

Cooper continues to lead the way in HCI and we are pleased to continue to work with them.

Chris Webb
Executive Editor
Wiley Publishing, Inc.

It might be worth waiting another 2 years for a 4th edition. hmmmm…