Book review: Communicating Design, by Dan M. Brown

This book is a classic! Not only because its author has almost the same name as another best seller of more discussed quality books, but because it is a great introduction to the tools that one should be familiar with when working with UX and Usability.
The book is divided in 2 parts:
  1. Design Diagrams
  2. Design Deliverables
We will be dealing on this review only with the section on the first part that talks about Personas.

A little background

Dan M Brown is an experienced UX author. From the first edition of the online magazine “UX Matters”  in 2005 to the book we are looking at right now in 2011.

This is the second edition of the book, which he proudly indicates is a “reduced” version, where he has taken out the things he does not use often and on which he has little to say.

He is also the principal at eigthshapes, a company focused on user experience designing.

Chapter 3 – Personas.

This chapter is organised based on what you have to do, and the order in which you should design personas.
He refers mostly to websites, but the same concepts can be used for other projects, so we will refer to digital solutions instead of “website” or “software”.

Introducing Personas.

  • What are personas, what are the different types based on the research behind them?
  • The challenges when designing personas.

Anatomy of a Persona

  • What should a persona have to be useful to the designers. The basic characteristics and more in depth features.
  • The relationship between the persona and the solution (being this one digital or not): their concerns, scenarios and circumstances
  • How to make them more human by adding background information and photograph
  • How the system will help them meet their needs; demographic information and how comfortable they are with technology.

Creating Personas

  • What are the personas designed for: Framing requirements? Validating design? Hypothesising research?
  • When to create them? Is the process a stand along or precursor to design project? For an existing solution or for a new one?
  • Who will be using them and how to address different stake holders
  • How to make them look better: images, illustrations, comparisons between personas

Presenting Personas

  • How to introduce them to everyone involved in the project and what to present to them.
  • How to sell them to the stakeholders.
This part deals mostly with how to present them, how to organise a meeting to introduce the personas and involve everyone. We see it as a checklist / step by step formula to present the personas

Using and applying personas

  • How to implement the personas in the design process
  • How to use them with other design documents
  • The importance of having personas instead of using phrases such as “users likes this….”

Our impressions

The content

This is an easy to read book full of useful information. Its modular structure allows the reader to read only the part that is relevant at the moment (not that any part of the book is irrelevant at all). The book gets to the point, and with the extra information from the “Ask the expert” one can get a real life insight on how to use the theory from the book.

Who is this book for?

Everyone. Simple as that. Enough theory to get one started and enough practical approach to not get overwhelm with information.
For those with more expertise this book can be a great way to learn new details or to brush up old knowledge.
Great reference book.

The companion website

There is extra information to be found on the companion site to the book. Plenty of downloads and extra information about the subjects are available.

Let’s talk about the book, not the content:

The book is easy to read. The landscape format makes it stand out from the rest of the books on my library. There is an advantage to this format: the book stays open. Since I use this book as a reference, I sometimes stay on the same page while I am working on the computer. Not having to close the book and open it again over and over was an advantage (mostly while I was at school!). I own two versions of this book: the actual book and the PDF version. The PDF on the iPad looks clear and (let me say…) crispy. The horizontal format again is a great advantage, since i have my iPad standing in that position next to my laptop almost all the time.

The mostly grey colour scheme  (I can’t remember if there is any colour at all in the book) keeps the distractions away. The hierarchy by fonts (something I really like) helps getting a quick overview of what is important at first sight.


A great reference book that is always good to have.
If you don’t have it, get it! It might be standing on your shelf for a while, but as any good reference book, it has (most of) the information you might need when you need it!

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