Over the weekend, I picked Bill Buxton's Sketching the User Experience off a shelf in the bookstore. As soon as I saw the pictures of orange juicers, I had to buy it. You see, to feed his morning fresh-squeezed juice habit, Buxton transitioned from a noisy electric juicer, to a functional manual juicer (left above), and finally to the epitome of fruit squeezing, an OrangeX manual juicer (right below).
Why he found the OrangeX juicer such a pleasure to use, after declaring "usability has nothing to do with their differences," is really what design is all about to him. Buxton, a Microsoft researcher, goes beyond ruminating on his experiences to interview the OrangeX designers. He includes prototypes and sketches to show how the OrangeX's levered cam action smoothly produces more power at the end of the stroke, when the user needs it most. The reader is treated to similar looks at the design process of automobiles, film production, the iPod, and Trek mountain bikes.
For all its great examples and thoughtful commentary, I found a number of rough spots in Sketching the User Experience. The body type is very small -- a strange choice for a book relating to usability. Some of his most provocative contentions are poorly sourced: I want more than a chart of Adobe's product releases before I'm willing to accept that software companies "are hopeless at the task" of developing new products after their first. Finally, Buxton expresses a suspicion of usability, treating it as the ill-favored stepchild of good design. In my mind the two diciplines are natural allies, not binary choices as Buxton seems to believe.
Still, Sketching the User Experience is definitely worth your time. It's an excellent library choice, and possibly a good purchase, if you're as enchanted as I am by levered cam action. Some related movie clips are available on the book's website.