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Three User Experience Books That Changed Our Outlook on Interface Design

03-16-22 Julie Young

Last year, we read three UX books that challenged our perception of interface design. Open your mind to considering assumptions about users’ locations and cultures, multimodal interaction and inclusivity, and user safety design.

In the past year, Sparkbox’s UX Book Club dug into some titles that changed how we think about the websites and products we build and use. Here’s what we read, and why we think you should read them too.

“Cross-Cultural Design” by Senongo Akpem

Cross-Cultural Design” by Senongo Akpem opened our eyes to how much we assumed about our users just because our clients are typically targeting U.S. markets. Even if you never have an internationalization or localization project, this book will expand your mindset about people and cultures and prompt you to question your assumptions.

We found immediate application when we considered designing experiences for people who speak English as a second language. This cross-cultural use case can be applied to all of our work. Is our copy well-organized so that anyone can judge its utility at a glance? Is the content clear and written plainly? Did we create high-quality print styles if the reader wanted to take more time with the material or ask for help offline?

And then there are all the cultural assumptions baked into icons, imagery, and typography that you should consider to make the right selections for an interface. Some typefaces are cringe-worthy misrepresentations of cultures or countries (Neuland has this reputation), stock photos can reinforce our biases, and sometimes icons simply don’t translate across cultures. I am just scratching the surface of all of the insightful information in this book.

“Design Beyond Devices” by Cheryl Platz

Cheryl Platz’s “Design Beyond Devices: Creating Multimodal, Cross-Device Experiences” breaks down the many user inputs and device outputs available today. It’s impressive to see how far beyond touch, mouse, and keyboard we’ve come. This book will encourage you to broaden your knowledge of inputs and outputs. Some of our favorite parts grappled with important issues like how multimodal interactions can make devices more inclusive or how they can inadvertently exclude people.

For example, voice input when paired with hands-on input can be extremely powerful for some people with limited sight or dexterity. But voice input alone would exclude people with speech disorders, or worse, people with “the wrong kind of” speech like accents, dialects, and even genders.

Platz also stresses the importance of thinking through the consequences of design, whether it’s harmful ergonomics of an input, the embarrassment of having a device indiscreetly announce something that is better kept private, or frankly, whether something should be built at all. There is so much to learn from this brain-expanding book!

“Design for Safety” by Eva PenzeyMoog

If only the designers, engineers, and product managers at Apple had embraced the lessons in “Design for Safety” by Eva PenzeyMoog, cases of AirTag-enabled stalking and abuse could have been avoided. This book should be required reading for everyone in tech. We typically think of how our creations will help users, but abusers will find ways to use them for harm. We often forget what we even consented to in the first place or who has access to our data!

People aren’t aware of the numerous ways that technology can be weaponized against them—especially if it is invisible. In our group discussion, many of us had personal experience with or knew someone whose partner had used technology against them. Technology shouldn’t be sinister.

There is plenty that we can do to prevent and detect abuse, and PenzeyMoog shares practical advice and a framework for considering your users’ safety when you’re designing a product. Read this book to be aware. Read this book so you can do your part to prevent abuse and increase everyone’s safety.

About Sparkbox’s UX Book Club

“UX Book Club” is probably a misnomer as we are made up of a cross-section of the company—not limited to UX practitioners. Developers, designers, project managers, and people from our outreach team all take part. All the books we choose revolve around understanding people or improving the user’s experience of technology in some way.

Check out the list of books we’ve read so far. You might notice a theme—a lot of DRM-free books from A Book Apart and Rosenfeld Media. Perfect for big group reads in a remote setting!

Do you have a suggestion for what we should read next? Reach out to us via Twitter.

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