Designing with the mind in mind is an excellent book that reveals the facts and neurological research behind common design principles. In this review I will tell you why you should read this book.

The structure of the book

The book starts with a brief presentation of a number of common User Interface design rules. It then compares the two best-known ones [1] and concludes that they are very similar. The reason for this is that they are derived from the same source: human psychology.

This book is all about explaining the psychological and neurological facts behind those design principles. The author, Jeff Johnson, does an excellent job of doing so throughout the book. He uses a clear language with lots of examples, without getting to deep into the psychological lingo.

The book consists of 12 chapters, each being about a specific neurological fact and the implications it has on how you should design User Interfaces. All the chapters have lots of both good and bad examples making it easy to understand how the principles are applied in real life.

We Perceive What We Expect

For example, Chapter 1 – We Perceive What We Expect, explains how our expectations bias how we perceive things. If for example, we’re talking about planning buildings, the black blocks in the picture below will likely look like buildings because we expect to see just that.

Image from slide 9 of Jeff Johnson: Psych 101: The Psychological Basis for UI Design Rules on SlideShare (see further resources at the end of the article)

On the other hand if we’re meeting with an advertising manager and discusses a new billboard. We would probably see a billboard with the white letters LIFT.

The fact that we perceive things differently based on our expectations has certain implications on how we design User Interfaces. For example, it implies that we should avoid ambiguity, we should be consistent in our design and we should understand the goals of our users.

Time Requirements

Another chapter I found especially interesting. It’s Chapter 12 – We Have Time Requirements which deals with how we perceive time and what time factors we should take in consideration when designing User Interfaces. This chapter contains a table which shows how long it takes for our brain to perceive different things. For example it states that the maximum duration of silent gap between turns in person-to-person conversation is about 1 second to keep the natural flow. One implication of this in User Interface Design is that it shouldn’t take longer than 1 second for the User Interface to respond (e.g a window to open, finishing an auto-save, e.t.c.).

The book is structured in such a way that it’s easy to use it as a reference to go back to and check when needed. It’s definitely one of these book you should keep near by your working desk.

About the author

Jeff Johnson, the author of this book, is President and Principal Consultant at UI Wizards, Inc. A product usability consulting firm that offers UI design, usability reviews, usability testing, and training. He has previously written GUI Bloopers and GUI Bloopers 2.0. Both books that deal with the same subject, User Interface Design.

Final verdict

If you’re designing or building User Interfaces, this book is a must read. Learning about and understanding the underlying psychological mechanisms behind common design principles will definitely make you a better designer/developer. It will make you better equipped to make the right design decisions for different scenarios. So don’t wait, buy it now! It’s well worth the money!

Book information

Designing with the mind in mind
Jeff Johnson
Morgan Kaufmann (June 3, 2010)

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Buy on CDON.COM (Sweden)
Further resources

Jeff has a great presentation on SlideShare, Psych 101: The Psychological Basis for UI Design Rules, that contains a lot of information from the book.


  1. The two best-known User Interface Design Guidelines are Schneiderman an Plaisant (2009) and Nielsen and Molich (1990).