About About Face 4.0

I got a copy of the fourth edition of About Face for Christmas because obviously that’s the kind of gift that I would appreciate. I read the second edition almost ten years ago and it’s a book that stuck with me over the years.

The thing I valued most when I read that book was that it altered the way I thought about design problems. The example I always reach for is the extended riff on the ubiquitous “Save” button you find in things like Word. It’s a button that you have to click (or a menu command you must choose) to commit any changes you make to the computer’s permanent memory. Sure, there is auto-save functionality but even in 2015, it is… not quite satisfactory.

Cooper argued that this is a button that shouldn’t even exist in the first place. Why doesn’t our software simply remember everything we did? It should save everything as we go. If we make mistakes, it can be corrected by also having extremely effective “Undo” functionality.

The key idea here isn’t to design a better “Save” button. The better design is nothing at all. The idea that sometimes it’s better to design nothing at all has stuck with me over the years. I’m pleased that the core of this idea, saving everything as you go, has been incorporated into more tools (though notably still not Word).