XIV.6 November + December 2007
Page: 60
Digital Citation

Review of “Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge,” MIT Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-262-13474-3, $39.95

Jeroen Bruin

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If you are an interaction designer and want to make an impression on friends or colleagues, reading Bill Moggridge's new book should be at the top of your to-do list. On seeing it, my colleagues made remarks like, "Wow, that book must be good; it weighs a ton, is designed nicely, and has an authoritative title!" These remarks were almost always followed by, "So, did you actually read it?" Well I did, and it left me with mixed emotions.

If you work in the interaction design field, this book should be a joy. The read is a similar experience to watching a "making of" documentary after the main feature on a DVD. Moggridge interviewed more than 40 leading interaction designers on their involvement in groundbreaking design like the Apple Macintosh, the Palm handheld, and Google. The interviews are embedded within a "voice-over" narrative from Moggridge. The approach of combining interview snippets with well-written accompanying text by the author creates a behind-the-scenes experience for the reader.

Moggridge sets the stage by visiting the early history of modern interaction design at the now famous PARC, with interviews of pioneers like Doug Engelbart, Stu Card, Tim Mott, and Larry Tesler. Their work—inventing the mouse, the desktop metaphor, and now-ubiquitious interaction methods like cutting and pasting—helped to make the personal computer what it is today. Moggridge follows the path of these luminaries from the brain-drain at Xerox PARC to the places where they worked afterward. For example, Moggridge follows Larry Tesler's career to Apple, where he teamed with Bill Atkinson to do groundbreaking work on the Lisa and Macintosh interfaces. It's absolutely thrilling to see the Apple Lisa interface come alive in the original Polaroids that Atkinson took during the development process, and it's amusing to see how the methods they used 30 years back resemble the highly fashionable agile-development methodologies like Scrum or XP. For me, the stories of extremely short iterations with overnight programming and daytime user testing felt like pages from a boy's adventure novel.

Moggridge's "documentary" continues with an elaboration of the work on the Apple Mac, the Apple mouse, mice in general, and a small sidestep into the world of Microsoft and the development of the famous Microsoft mouse. More important than introducing us to Microsoft, this chapter sets the stage for the formation of the design company IDEO (Moggridge's current employer) by members of the Microsoft mouse team. Moggridge's narrative here moves from simple context-setting to more philosophical musings on the methods of interaction design. Narration again gives way to history, with coverage of the emergence of Macintosh OS X, the much acclaimed operating system.

The next section of this large book follows the evolution of interaction design from desktop to Palm Pilot and includes a discussion of the way in which interfaces are adopted by their intended users. Moggridge advocates a three-phase model of technology adoption and discusses how technology progresses from use by hobbyists for work to use in day-to-day life. He does not take the time to compare his theory with well-known ones (like Roger's Adoption of Innovation theory) and does not interact with notions like the critical mass needed for adoption, so in the end this discussion is somewhat lacking. This story ends with the success of the Apple iPod's release, but unfortunately does not cover the smart marketing approach Apple used, which helped make this product the huge success it is today.

From small devices, Moggridge moves on to cover some notable achievements in interaction design in the gaming industry, using the Sims as an example. This section includes an interview with Brenda Laurel, the noted HCI lecturer and practitioner, about Purple Moon, an interactive experience for girls. Laurel explains that the failure of Purple Moon was due to the dot-com crash's drying up funding for her project. Moggridge falls short by not critically examining the failure in more depth, which could help to prevent similar failures in the future.

A significant portion of this "making of" experience follows the road less traveled to tell the story of the development of interactive services like the Japanese DoCoMo i-mode, online banking, and the innovation on Amtrak train services. Specific Internet-related success stories like Google and BBC interactive are covered separately.

More-tangible interfaces and the translation of the physical world into interactive experiences are also covered. Moggridge provides examples of the development of Quicktime and Quicktime VR, which give insight into how the real world can be captured in an interface. From here, the historical portion of the book wraps up with a look ahead into the future of interaction design and how this is being shaped in the here and now, and does so without sounding like a science fiction novel.

This magnum opus ends with a short series of insights into the author's (and his company's) view on interaction design. Just like the examples covered in the rest of the book, this view is pragmatic and focused on real-life implementations. Moggridge's view doesn't evince much obvious concern for theory (though it has no obvious disdain for theory, either). This is a useful choice, because it would be difficult to treat theory properly across such a broad range of subjects and examples. For Moggridge, the practice of interaction design is, essentially, building prototypes based on an analysis of users in context and putting these prototypes to the test, with a healthy dash of creativity interspersed across the process—in other words, a process of iterative design.

Through the lens of this book, Microsoft Windows is presented as a marginal phenomenon, with very little happening outside of Palo Alto. The book is too focused on selling IDEO as the world-dominating design firm. For a book claiming to cover a history of interaction design, this is somewhat shortsighted. In addition, Moggridge focuses on success stories but covers neither the challenges of applying seemingly good design processes, nor where products designed by the best interaction designers using world-class methodologies failed miserably. For this book to have excelled in the "making of" genre and to have delivered on the claim of being a history of interaction design it should have been more objective, complete, and critical toward its subjects. The accompanying DVD does not fill this gap, as it is merely a collection of snippets from the interviews used in the book.

Truly remarkable "making of" documentaries have something in common: You feel you have seen the true story from behind the scenes—including disasters, actors breaking down, and projects going wildly over budget. In this book, you only get to see the actors posing in full makeup.

So why should you buy this book? Because, despite its failings, Moggridge's attempt to write a history of interaction design is bold, courageous, fun to read, and beautifully designed. However, I urge the author to step out of his IDEO office, doff his rose-colored glasses, and take a trip across the globe to write a second volume.

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Gerard Torenvliet
415 Leggett Drive, P.O. Box 13330
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K2K 2B2

Editor's note: After seven years of editing reviews for the CHI community, first for the Bulletin and more recently for <interactions>, I'm handing over the reins of this column. I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to write for (and read!) this column over the years.—Gerard Torenvliet

Reviewed by Jeroen de Bruin

About the Reviewer

Jeroen de Bruin is a senior user experience consultant at TietoEnator Digital Innovations. TietoEnator is one of the largest full-service IT providers in Europe. TietorEnator Digital Innovations focuses on offering innovative solutions for customer (self) care.

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