I attended and spoke at the Virtual conference from Rosenfeld Media today “31 Awesomely Practical UX Tips”. Each speaker presented their favorite user experience tips. I took one tip from each of the speakers as my favorite. Here they are:
Steve Krug — Test your competition/comparables. Before you choose a design path or design idea, find someone else who is doing it and run a user test of their site/app/product. That way you can see what works and what doesn’t before you even start your design.
Whitney Quesenbery — Many of the best designs we all use started out as products designed for accessibility, for example, rolling mail carts for postal delivery people (started off being used by women since it wasn’t believed they could carry a heavy load) and Good Grips tools from OXO (started as special tools for people with arthritis, but now they are just known as well-designed tools).
Jeffrey Eisenberg — Instead of designing to fit your selling process and selling cycle, design instead to fit the customer’s BUYING process and buying cycle. These are not the same thing.
Aaron Walter — Stop designing in Photoshop. Use something like Bootstrap where you can see what things really look like and you can concentrate on the “system” not the “page”.
Luke Wroblewski — 75% of people using smartphone apps are using one thumb — Have you designed for one thumb use?
It was a GREAT day of learning. It was hard to just pick one from each!
In his (great) book, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug has a chapter called “Billboard Design 101: Designing pages for scanning not reading.” The idea is that people don’t read all the text at a website, they scan it. So you should think “billboard” when you are deciding what to put on the page, instead of “page that someone will actually read”.
What makes a terrible site? — I was thinking about this idea yesterday as I was looking at a terrible website. Website design has matured over the years, and it actually is rare to find designs that are as bad as this one. Someone asked me why I was so apalled by it (they honestly didn’t know), and I almost found myself at a loss for words. I eventually found my voice and started talking about fonts that are hard to read, too much text, no clear and persistent navigation, too many unique margins… But then I realized I was overwhelming the person I was talking to. He’s not a web designer, not a visual designer, not a programmer, and not a user experience professional.
The bigger picture — I decided I needed to go up a level and give him just one or two concepts that would encapsulate the “big picture”. I realized that it boiled down to these two things:
1) On every page, does the visitor know what he or she is supposed to do on that page? Is it clear why the page is there and what his or her next action should be?
2) On every page, has the website owner/business owner made it really clear how the visitor can take the one action that the owner really wants and hopes the visitor to take?
I think this might be a useful high level checklist. Can’t decide whether to include that photo? Does the photo help with #1 or #2 above? Can’t decide what needs to go above the fold? If it answers #1 or #2 above then put it above the fold. Can’t decide if you need more text explanation of a certain action? Will providing more text help with #1 or #2 above?
What do you think? Are these 2 questions the critical ones or do I simplify too much? What do you think are the one or two critical questions? Can we summarize at that high a level or is that not useful?
Ok, I’ll admit it, I am exaggerating a little bit when I say people are inherently lazy. What I really mean is that people will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done.
Is lazy another word for efficient? — Over eons of evolution humans have learned that they will survive longer and better if they conserve their energy. We’ve learned that we want to spend enough energy to have enough resources (food, water, sex, shelter), but beyond that we are wasting our energy if we spend too much time running around getting stuff.
How much is enough? — Of course questions about how much is enough, and do we have enough stuff yet, and how long should the stuff last (and on and on), still vex us, but putting the philosophical questions aside, for most activities most of the time humans work on a principle that is called “satisficing”.
Satisfy plus suffice = Satisfice — According to Wikipedia, Herbert Simon was the person who coined the term satisfice. It was originally used to describe a decision-making strategy whereby the person decides to pick the option that is adequate rather than optimal. The idea is that the cost of making a complete analysis of all the options is not only not worth it, but may be impossible. According to Simon we often don’t have the cognitive faculties to weigh all the options. So it makes more sense to make a decision based on “what will do” or what is “good enough” rather than trying to find the optimal or perfect solution.
Designing with satisficing in mind — So if people “satisfice” rather than “optimize”, what are the implications for those of us who design web sites, software, products, or even design surveys? Satisficing leads to some interesting design guidelines which I’ve listed below.
Design web sites for scanning, not reading — In his excellent book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug applies the idea of satisficing to the behavior you can observe when someone comes to your web site. You are hoping the visitor will read the whole page, but we know that “What they actually do most of the time (if we’re lucky) is glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for. There are usually large parts of the page that they don’t even look at.”
Assume that people will look for shortcuts — People will look for ways to do something faster and with less steps. This is especially true if it is a task they are doing over and over.
But if the shortcut is too hard to find — Then people will keep doing it the old way. This seems paradoxical, but it’s all about the amount of perceived work. If it seems like too much work to find a shortcut then people will stay with their old habits (they are even satisficing about satisficing).
Provide defaults — Defaults reduce the amount of work. When you provide defaults on a web form, for example, the person’s name and address is already filled in, this means there is less that people have to do. The downside of this is that people often don’t notice defaults, and so may end up accepting a default without knowing. Here again, the answer lies in the amount of effort. If it takes a lot of work to change the result of accepting a “wrong” default, then think twice about using them.
Take care with the order and wording of your survey questions — Satisficing is particular difficult for surveys. People will get into a “groove” of answering all the questions the same way because it’s easier and they don’t have to think. If your survey is more than a few questions long you will have to mix it up, and provide different options and formats for the questions or you will find that a given individual has chosen twenty-five “6’s” in a row on your scale.
What are your experiences, either as a user or a designer, with the concept of satisficing?
I’ve been a fan of Steve Krug’s since his original book, Don’t Make Me Think, came out about a decade ago. (And Steve was kind enough to write an endorsement for my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? when it came out last year).
Steve’s new book is all about user testing of web sites (or software or products or anything really). The premise of the book is that ANYONE can conduct a simple user test and that EVERYONE who has a website, software, or a product, should conduct user testing.
So the book is a DIY guide to simple, but effective, user testing.
Here’s my review via video, and below that I’ll summarize the take-aways:
What I like most about the book:
It’s very thorough — This really is everything you need to know to conduct an informal usability test.
Useful checklists — Chapter 7 is called “Some boring checklists” and it has great (not boring) checklists of what to do and when to do it.
All the wording and scripts you need — Chapter 8 gives you all the details you need, for example what to say as the facilitator, and what your consent form should contain. You get the actual forms and scripts.
How to interpret the data you get — Chapters 11 and 12 tell you what to do now that you’ve run the user tests and you have information.
How to think about the results — One of my favorite chapters is #10, where he walks you through how to have a meeting with your team and decide what actions to take based on the feedback you got during the test.
Link to an example video — In the book Steve gives you a URL to watch a video. The video is Steve conducting a user test with a real user. He annotates the video with some call outs so you can learn what he is doing as he goes along.
It’s a great book and I recommend it for anyone who has anything to do with designing or improving a website, or software, or technology product that people use. Whether you are new to user testing, or a pro with many years under your belt, you will find this book to be of immense value.
If you’d like to read more about it on Amazon, here’s a link (affiliate):
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