Better Know a Speaker: Steve Krug
An Event Apart Boston is weeks away, and we’re all tingly over the greatest speaker lineup since Plato met Socrates. Take Steve Krug (biography, business site), author of the game-changing usability tome Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, now in its second edition. Eric and I can’t believe we got him. I’m still awed that he said yes.
If not for Steve Krug, I wouldn’t so much as speak the word “usability” in the privacy of my home, let alone bandy it about in mixed company. Curt Cloninger memorably expressed what many of us felt when he wrote “Usability experts are from Mars, graphic designers are from Venus” in the July 28, 2000 issue of A List Apart.
STOP AND SMELL THE BRIMSTONE
Like many design professionals, I rejected usability when I first encountered it. That’s mainly because I first encountered it as a series of rules, put forward by business-oriented, lab-coat-wearing experts who were hostile to the aesthetic component of user experience. Later, the rules would soften. “Only use blue, underlined links” would give way to gentler and more flexible guidelines.
And even before this softening, there was much in the early, fire-and-brimstone approach to usability that was actually of value to web designers. I should have been open-minded enough to benefit from the helpful bits and wink at the rest. But I was too busy defending my creative turf (not to mention reliving old battles with badly run focus groups and cocky account executives) to look closer and see that usability mainly means designing for the people who use my site.
AND THEN ALONG CAME MARY
Don’t Make Me Think. Starting with his book’s very title, Steve Krug made me see. Advancing from one low-key, guilt-free, common-sense premise to the next, Don’t Make Me Think made me think. And think. Above all, it made me rethink.
Consider an archived Happy Cog portfolio page, rescued from the hoary mists of time. Ignore the problem of orange-on-orange, which falls more under accessibility than usability. Focus on the page’s unusual means of presenting written content. When you click an icon, relevant text emerges. Click again, and it disappears. For instance, when you gently tap Cate Blanchett, you get text about the Charlotte Gray website we designed for Warner Bros.
But the page’s usability is awful. How could a visitor possibly know that she is supposed to click an icon to reveal pertinent hidden text? She couldn’t. Hence the explanatory text at the top of the page. If you have to explain how your interface works, maybe you need to rethink the whole thing.
Steve Krug didn’t drop by my house to tell me my design was overwrought and under-thought. And he wouldn’t have put it that way, anyway. He’s way too nice a guy, not to mention way too experienced a consultant, to base his tutelage on insults. But his book woke my conscience and reshaped how I approach my craft.
His book, which you can read during a business flight, makes a convincing case for studying your audience, learning their needs, creating pathways of experience that you hope will meet those needs, and then testing, testing, testing.
Krug convinces because he is witty, and charming, and humble, and mostly because his ideas make sense and ring true. Boiled down, the essence of usability is the same as the essence of all good design: Think more so your users don’t have to think at all.
Design, after all, is about solving problems. Start with your user’s.
PLEASE COME TO BOSTON
On March 26, Eric and I will be listening as avidly as any audience member when Steve Krug jumps onto our stage to share sixty minutes he calls “The Web Usability Diet:”
Usability is a bit like eating sensibly: we all know it’s good for us (and our websites), but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to do it. In the last year, Steve Krug has found himself paring down his simple message even more, so everyone can find time for it. Come hear his latest thinking on what you really need to do about usability—and why it’s less than you think.
Great though he is, Steve Krug is but one of the gifted thinkers and doers who will share our stage for two days in March. Over the next weeks, Eric and I will introduce you to the other speakers (not that they need any introduction), so keep watching this space. Meanwhile, the complete speaking schedule is available for your perusal.
An Event Apart Boston is selling out fast. To reserve your seat (and save $100 off the regular price), register before the earlybird discount expires on February 26th. (Better yet, do it today.)