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Book review: 100 Thinks Every Designer Needs to Know About People

May 4, 2012

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People
Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., New Riders, ©2011

Book cover for this bookAt about 250 pages, it’s obvious that this book isn’t going to cover 100 things very deeply. Most items are covered in one or two pages and there’s a good amount of ‘white space’ on the page. So if you’re looking for depth, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But depth isn’t the goal of this book. Instead, it provides a set thumbnail rules for anyone who needs to create written material in general. Although it is probably most useful for creators of web sites, I think at least 75% of her ‘things’ are applicable to those of us who create presentations and at least 90% would be of interest. If you remember the admonition of Duarte (and others) to “think like a designer,” this book might help you understand what that means.

At the top level, here’s how she categorized and presented her 100 points:

  • How people see
  • How people read
  • How people remember
  • How people think
  • How people focus their attention
  • What motivates people
  • People are social animals
  • How people feel
  • People make mistakes
  • How people decide

The first five of these have a lot of similarity to content in Medina’s Brain Rules book and, in fact, that’s one of the sources she cites. Her version is a compressed, capsule statement of the material along with an example or two of the impact the information should have on the choices a designer makes. The 49 points in these categories are essentially 100% relevant for a presentation designer. In fact, I found that only the “mistakes” category contained nothing directly useful, but it’s interesting reading despite that.

What I liked

But the book is well designed-it’s a good example of the ideas it presents. As a result, it’s very readable and concise. It’s also very pragmatic with specific examples and guidelines for every item she presents. If you want to get a sense of what people like Dr. John Medina, Dan Pink and the Heath brothers are saying, this book will help. If Weinschenk gets you interested enough to read some of those, then so much the better.

What I didn’t like

The compressed, capsule version of the points she makes necessarily leaves out a lot of the discussion. As a result, some things may seem weakly supported–I didn’t see anything wrong in her synopses, but I’m not sure I’d have really accepted some of the points without having read other material like Medina and the Heath brothers. The format of the book also makes it hard for her to show the relationships that often tie several points together. Grouping them into the categories is her main way of showing that, but again, without having read the other material, I’m not sure I’d see the connections. Last, I wish her editors had done a better job with the research citations. There’s an extensive bibliography of books and research papers in the back, but the way in-line citations are done makes it hard to find the source she is using. That may be a nit but the fact that there are missing citations isn’t, and her editors should have caught that. It’s not common, but there are multiple cases of “research shows that_ .” in the book with no way to know whose research she’s referring to and that’s sloppy.

Bottom line

If you’re really interested in the topic, you’ll be better served by reading about a half dozen other books, especially Medina, Heath & Heath, Duarte and Reynolds. This can’t replace those but if you want a quick-read version of the essentials of design for presentations, then Weinschenk’s book is just the ticket. And if she gets you interested enough to then read a few of the others, so much the better.

Recommended.

Note:  Susan has a new book that’s going to be available in late May 2012: 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People.
I’m guessing there will be a lot of overlap between these and big sections could be reused entirely, so you might want to check the reviews on that one before getting this.

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