The first time I was introduced to usability design as a concept and a general idea, was while working with the team behind the SmashingMagazine website. It was not the project we were working on - the job board - but rather the time I spend on their site, and the strict methodological approach they showed to presenting the information to their readers. In fact I firmly believe that their success - and successful they are - was very much fueled by the explicit design decisions they made. Their post about usability related books pointed me to Steve Krugs "Don't make me think!" and to Jacob Nielsens website.
Of course the web is nowadays filled with usability experts, blogs and posts with howtos and guides, golden rules and best practices. Nevertheless most of them miss the scientific approach the book "Neuro Web Design" by Susan M. Weinschenk is taking.
The book is rather small and can be read cover to cover in a day. It is sparse on pictures and focuses on a single idea per chapter for a total of 11 basic principles we should be aware of when designing websites.
In the first chapter the author introduces us to the basic building blocks of the human brain. The old, the mid and the new brain are used in the remainder of the book to explain where our decisions stem from and how these threee parts interact in order to help us make a decision. The base idea is that the old and mid brain play a crucial role by overimposing survival instincts and emotions to the their part the new brain and it's logic thought.
In the following chapters the author explains how social principles like social validation (the group/bystander effect) and individual emotions like reciprocity are exploited in modern information design. Also the paradox of choice is discussed as well as the fact that we seem to value something more if it scarce.
The second part of the book is more about "You" as a principle and how the idea of "You" is generated and used in order to make a sale or to make "You" identify yourself with a certain personality type. User commitment, investment and association are explained with everyday examples I think everyone can relate to.
The book finishes with a small chapter about the social nature of the human behavior, which in my opinion could have been a bigger part of the overall book.
The book has a very nice approach to explaining it's core ideas. Every chapter is filled with results from user behavior studies verifying the core idea. This approach has the nice side effect that it actually validates the assumptions made, with reproducible experiments instead of taking the "Believe and don't question" approach many modern usability blogs are taking. While not "Milestone" material I enjoyed reading the book and can recommend it to anyone who would like to throw in some scientific proven facts to the neverending usability discussions.