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kathy: what is your favorite "book design" element  RSS feed

 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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While reading, "Badass", I noticed a number of design features that were unique to the book. Some are shared with the Head First series, but some look new. What did you find to be the most interesting feature you used in the book to make it easier to read or so more learning goes on or ....
 
Kathy Sierra
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Hah, I said "ooooohhhh what a lovely question!" and then I saw that it was you Jeanne, and thought, "no surprise it was from you."

I can't pick one, but I can pick *two* -- as it would have been difficult to do it without both:

1. the graphic/visual representations of the topics -- something I've always said matters deeply as brains process visuals far far far more quickly and accurately than if the brain has to map from words to a mental model. And I'm not that great a "writer", so the graphics are extremely important. It compresses a great deal of information -- accurately -- into a small chunk the brain can get with much less cognitive effort for the same gain.

2. the 'conversation' that's happening in the book. This is not necessarily a superior way to achieve the goal I had for the book, but it was literally the ONLY way I could come up with that worked for me. It helped me do the 'meta' part of the book by helping acknowledge what the reader was likely experiencing as they read it.

OK, 3 things: Having it be an overall start-to-finish journey. I wrote the book as basically a three-act 'hero's journey' story. I started with storyboards that had a sketch on almost every page, and then I mapped the storyboards almost 1 to 1 into actual pages, and that gave me the first draft. Then the rest was filling in the pages.

Some of this was about what would make it best for the reader/user, but a lot of it was also about what would enable *me* to even be able to do it. There certainly were other and potentially better ways it could have been done, but in this case this was the ONLY way I was capable of actually doing it. I'd had many years trying a variety of other ways to tell this story and create this experience.

Interestingly, the sort of argument I'm having a little with O'Reilly right now is around the extent to which this should be called a 'book'. I keep calling it a Product with Users, not a Book with Readers, but only because for most publishers today, "book" is still synonymous with "words" that are "read". I would like to think of "Book" as a "User Experience".

Side note: Head First Java has been the longest-running tech bestseller of the past decade. Nobody expected it to be successful at all let alone THE most successful (almost two million copies of HF books). If anyone wants to know EXACTLY what the thought process was that led to HF Java, the Badass book is basically that story. In other words, the very first page issues a challenge, and it is exactly the challenge that Bert and I faced, and this book is about how we thought about answering it. If we had it to do over again, the implementation would have been very very different, but the POV -- the way we thought of what needed to happen -- is exactly as described in the book.

We believe HF Java was so successful (despite a LOT of flaws in what and how we did it) solely because we were doing what most books weren't -- viewing the reader as a user, and creating a user experience that would draw the reader into actually learning, by removing as many blocks to that as possible. Again, we weren't successful in removing all the blocks, but we were doing it much better than virtually any other Java book simply because we were answering a different question.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Kathy Sierra wrote:Hah, I said "ooooohhhh what a lovely question!" and then I saw that it was you Jeanne, and thought, "no surprise it was from you."

Aw, thanks!

Picking two (or three) is fine. I was trying to ask an involved question in a way that wouldn't require you to write an essay to answer it . I appreciate the detail in the response!
 
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