Help me write a Teacher’s Guide?

June 9th, 2014 15 comments

Do you use Don’t Make Me Think in a course that you teach?

I could use your help.

One of the biggest surprises I’ve had since I wrote it has been the amount of email I’ve received from two groups:

  • Teachers who have been assigning it, and
  • Students who have read it.

Honestly, I never in a million years would have thought that it might end up being used in classrooms, so it was a very pleasant surprise. And I felt glad that I wasn’t responsible for subjecting people to one of the big fat books I had to wade through as a student. Score one more for short books.

My publisher has always wanted me to create a teacher’s guide, and frankly I’ve always resisted because, well, it involves writing. But now that the new edition (Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited) is out and I’ve almost caught my breath, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and start working on one.

So if you’re a teacher who’s used it in a course, I’d love to hear from you.

I have some ideas of my own, but I’m sure people have come up with great assignments, projects, discussion topics…even quiz questions, and I’d really like to include some of them. Please email your syllabus (or a link to it) or anything you’re willing to share to Feel free to include some brief thoughts about what (if anything) you’ve found valuable in teacher’s guides.


P.S. If you’ve been using Rocket Surgery Made Easy, I’d love to hear from you about that, too, even though I’m only working on the guide for Think right now.

Categories: Other

Almost here

December 27th, 2013 8 comments

The new edition of Don’t Make Me Think (Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited) is finally about to escape the containment.

DMMTR cover 389x500In fact, the eBook version should be available today, and Amazon currently says they’ll be shipping the papyrus version next Friday (January 3rd). I tend to believe them, because in my experience they’re almost always smart enough to underpromise and overdeliver.  [UPDATE: It’s shipping from Amazon now—12/30. Kindle and eBook are available, too.]

I’m looking forward to seeing a copy myself.

If you’ve ever published a book, you know how much work goes into designing a cover. And if you haven’t, take my word for it: Coming up with a book cover can involve as many stakeholders, constraints, requirements, tradeoffs, and religious debates as designing an entire Web site, and sometimes takes almost as long.

In this case, for instance, it had to be similar enough to the original cover so people would understand that it’s the same book. But at the same time it had to be different enough that they’d also understand it wasn’t the same book—if you see what I mean.

Like most design projects, the whole thing was pretty interesting, and maybe one of these days I’ll write something about it.

Cover prototypingFor now, though, I just wanted to share a few photos of part of my personal [some might say compulsive] approach to the process.

Each time we came up with a new design, I’d print it out on photo paper, trim it to size, and attach it to the marked-up copy of the previous edition that I carried with me everywhere for six months while I was writing. I’d use removable glue-stick so I could peel it off later and replace it with the next iteration.

I found that carrying the new design around on a real book was the best way to get a feel for what worked about it and what still needed improvement.

The inspiration for this was clearly the story I’ve always loved about how Jeff Hawkins cut out a block of wood the size and shape of the Palm Pilot, then carried it around for months in his shirt pocket pretending to use it to take notes, look up phone numbers, etc. If you’ve never heard the story—or even if you have—check out this post by Alberto Savoia on the idea of pretotyping (as opposed to prototyping): My favorite pretotype story.

Anyone going to U[X]PA?

July 6th, 2013 5 comments

UXPA conferenceI’m looking forward—as usual—to the annual Usability Professionals’ Association conference next week in DC.

Oh, sorry. The User Experience Professionals’ Association conference next week in DC. (I’m still not entirely used to the name change.)

I’ve always told anyone who’s interested in usability that they should try to get to this conference if they can, because unlike some professional conferences, the sessions tend to be much more practical than academic. Most of the presenters are practitioners who are eager to share their experience, so it’s always interesting and very often useful.

But I realized last year that there’s another reason why I always enjoy the conference so much.

During the awards dinner (it’s an association; there has to be an awards dinner), I looked around the room and suddenly thought, “Boy, these are very nice people.” Obviously, I don’t know most of them personally, but over the years I’ve met a lot of them, and they tend to be—on average—a lot more decent and friendly than the general population.

I only had to think about it for a minute to understand why. Usability is basically a user advocate job. We try to make life easier for people by empathizing with them as they struggle to use technology. In fact, empathy is probably pretty much a prerequisite for a career in usability. So naturally, they tend to be nice to be around.

So do yourself a favor and attend a Usability/User Experience Professionals Association event, national or local.

And do me  favor: If you’re at the conference next week and see me wandering around, please come up and say Hi. Getting a chance to talk to a lot of people is always one of the nicest things about the week. (And in case you were wondering, I love signing copies of my books, too.)

Categories: Other

Just trying something out

May 26th, 2013 16 comments

I decided that one of the [many] reasons why I don’t post to my blog regularly is that the tool I’ve been using to do it (WordPress) is just not very welcoming.

Getting Things Done coverIt’s kind of like what David Allen says about items on your to-do list: If you experience a sense of dread just reading them, you’re not very likely to want to start doing them. (One of his primary rules automatically makes them friendlier: Every item on your Next Actions list should be just that—the very next, and usually very small, action that you need to take to further the goal, not the whole goal itself. So rather than “Get car fixed” you’d put “Look up mechanic’s phone number” which feels much less tiring, and hence much more doable.)

In the same sense, I realized that I’ve always approached opening up the native WordPress editor with a sense of dread. It just always feels like I’m wading through a swamp in a pair of hip boots that are way too large: everything about it feels kind of cumbersome. So I decided to look around for some way to write blog posts that felt friendlier.

Right now, I’m giving Windows Live Writer a spin. Please ignore any mild sense of vertigo you may experience. [Hopefully] it’ll only be temporary.

UPDATE  Well, that went pretty well, all things considered. The vote isn’t in yet on any unintended consequences, but it was certainly more fun than working in the WordPress editor. Curiously, it didn’t preview the post in the fonts used on my site (as advertised), but I have to imagine that may be because I tinkered with the WordPress theme that I use quite a bit. We’ll see.

imageUPDATE 2  While googling to find out if I could make edits outside of Live Writer (e.g. via the WordPress app on my iPhone) and still have Live Writer stay in sync, I discovered that the reason I wasn’t seeing WYSIWYG fonts from my theme was that I hadn’t noticed the Preview tab at the bottom of the screen. (The word “Preview” was also gray, BTW.) It’s not like I hadn’t looked for it, but the status bar at the bottom of a window isn’t one of the places where I usually look for important things.

UPDATE 3  Gosh, I really like this. It’s about a thousand times better than using WordPress itself. Essentially, it’s like writing in Word (which I’ve used forever), only it has a Publish button that knows how to speak to WordPress. Maybe I’ll actually start blogging after all.

Categories: Usability

These are a | few of my | fav- or- ite | things…

March 28th, 2013 6 comments

If you’ve ever done usability tests using mobile devices you know that it can get very complicated very quickly: sleds, goosenecks, document cameras, converters, physical restraints (well, maybe not physical restraints, but “Don’t move the device beyond this point” markers), and a lot more.

Since I wrote a book about testing (Rocket Surgery Made Easy), people often ask me about the best way to do mobile testing. I think I’ve finally figured out what’s what, and I’m going to write a few blog posts about it. To begin with, though, I thought I’d mention two tools that seem to be well-kept secrets (i.e., I’m always surprised how many people haven’t heard about them.)

They’re useful for solving two problems:

  • How you record mobile tests, and
  • How you display them to observers.

(They’re both for iOS devices, not Android or Windows Phone.)

First, recording.

As near as I can tell, Steve Jobs must have been scared by multitasking when he was a kid, with the result that it’s nearly impossible to do more than one thing at a time on your iPhone or iPad–or iWatch, presumably. (Exception: You can listen to music and do one other thing. Steve was apparently fond of music.)

The upshot is that there’s never been much prospect for running a screen recorder in the background under iOS. And screen recorders (e.g., Camtasia, et al), are like mothers’ milk to us usability folks. I had despaired of ever finding one, until recently.

First, I came across UX Recorder ( And then someone (OK, it was Dave Greenlees. Thanks, Dave.) alerted me to Magitest (

They have a lot of similarities. They both record what’s on the screen, the user’s face (via the front-facing camera), and think-aloud audio (via the microphone). They both save the recordings to the camera roll when you’re done. And they both superimpose some representation of the user’s gestures (taps, swipes, pinches, etc.) on the recording.

Both have free versions that let you do short test recordings. The full Magitest costs $24.99, and UX Recorder has a pay-per-recording plan, or $59.99 for unlimited use.

The truth is, given the limitations imposed by Apple, they’re both pretty remarkable. But they’re not perfect.

They both seem to slow things down. (Typing can be painful, for instance.) And the recordings can take a very long time to encode and save. (All of this is from limited use/experimentation, so anyone with *actual* knowledge, please chime in with corrections.)

They both can only record things that happen in a web browser, so you can’t use them to test apps. But Magitest has an SDK module that you can add to your native-app project code which will let you make app-specific recordings.

BTW, there *was* another app called Display Recorder in the App Store briefly that *didn’t* play by the no-multitasking rules, and I was lucky enough to grab a copy before Apple banned it. It allowed you to record *anything*, including other apps, seemed not to slow things down, and saved its files remarkably fast. The bad news is that it doesn’t exist anymore, at least not without jailbreaking. It seems to live on in the Cydia store, though, if you’re the kind of person who’s OK with ripping the “Do not remove under penalty of law” labels off pillows and mattresses.

Second, displaying.

The truth is, while recordings are nice to have, I’m much more concerned about getting a bunch of people in a room and having them observe the tests live, so displaying what’s happening on a big screen is crucial.

There are two basic approaches: screen sharing (mirroring what’s on the screen) and camera views (what the user sees, including his or her own hands).

I’ll go into the pros and cons of both in another post, but I can tell you one thing: If all you want to do is mirror the screen to people in another room, you should at least consider Airplay–a feature built into iOS, the Mac OS, and Apple TVs for streaming audio and video.

It’s this simple:

  1. Connect your iDevice (iPhone 4S or higher, iPad 2 or higher, iPad Mini) and a Mac or PC to the same WiFi network.
  2. Install Reflector ($12.99 from ) on the Mac or PC.
  3. Turn on Airplay on the iDevice.

Bingo: Reflector mirrors your iDevice screen on the Mac or PC. (I have to say the effect is oddly striking. It always feels a little bit like magic to me.)

From there, you can run a screen recorder (e.g., Camtasia) to make a recording, and run screen sharing software (e.g. GoToMeeting) to send the image to the observation room. (Reflector doesn’t transmit audio from the iDevice microphone, so you’ll have to hook up a mic to the Mac or PC.)

I’ve used this to project the demo tests that I do whenever I give talks, and it works remarkably well.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m going to write another post or two about what I’ve finally concluded about mobile testing. (I have to say even I was surprised by my conclusions.)

Categories: Usability

Innocents Abroad

September 13th, 2012 4 comments

People have been asking me for years when I’m going to be speaking near [insert name of country in Europe here].

I’m basically a stay-at-home kind of guy, so my answer has always been some variant of  “One of these days. Hopefully. Maybe.”

Next week, it’s actually going to happen.

On Thursday (20 Sept.) thanks to the good folks running the From The Front 2012 conference, I’ll be teaching my day-long “learn how to do your own usability testing” workshop in Bologna, Italy. Details and registration are at and the first five people using the discount code “rocketsurgery” can save 20% on workshop registration.

I’m also giving the opening keynote at the conference on Friday (21 Sept.), and the code “skrug” will give the first five users 20% off on conference registration. It’s a full day of really good speakers in a fabulous XVII Century theater.

Both events will be conducted in English, with opt-in simultaneous translation available for the conference.

(BTW, I’m as puzzled by the pirate motif of the conference site as you are. Don’t worry about it. The producers are really nice, smart people. I just figure it’s a cultural thing.)

My new favorite tool

September 11th, 2012 11 comments

I don’t know about you, but even though I enjoy watching some videos online, I almost always find them to be   t o o    s   l   o   w.

I don’t mind if a film noir from the 40’s drags when I’m watching it on TV; that’s part of the fun. But most webinars (frankly), and even things like TED talks (although I know it’s heresy to say it aloud) can seem to go on forever.

And as soon as my attention starts to wander, I start kidding myself that I can actually multitask, which amounts to a) opening up my inbox and working through some of the email languishing there while I half-listen, and b) gradually losing the thread of what the speaker is saying, which makes it seem even more boring. Eventually, I just close the video.

One problem is the inherent difference between print and video: You can skim print. In fact, we do it all the time. We’re constantly adjusting our pace, all the way from “just glancing at the headings” to “rereading the same sentence until we finally understand it”, with dozens of gradations in between. This flexibility lets us skip over (or at least breeze through) the parts that just aren’t of much interest or value to us.

Granted, the system isn’t perfect. We’re not always the best judges of what we need to pay attention to. And it can often lead to skipping over the harder stuff (the parts we don’t understand), which may be exactly what we do need to read carefully. But for the most part, it’s very effective and efficient. (Personally, I instantly skim past any description of a landscape in a novel. I can’t picture them well in my head, so they add nothing to the experience. If I couldn’t skip them, there are many books I’m sure I wouldn’t have read.)

Which brings me to my tool tip.

Many years ago (perhaps 20), I sometimes found myself watching videos of usability tests that someone else had conducted. As much as I love usability testing, watching a batch of prerecorded tests can be, quite honestly, like watching paint dry. The first few can be fascinating, but after that….

So I went looking and found myself a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder, for those of you under 25) that had variable speed playback WITH AUDIO. Almost every VCR could vary the playback speed somewhat, but 99 percent of them muted the audiowhen you did it. This one played the audio and  adjusted the pitch proportionally so you didn’t get the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” effect.

A few years ago, while again watching some usability test recordings online, I started hankering for the same functionality. In fact, I suggested to the folks at that they add it as a feature. (I had suggested it to some other vendors in the past, but they just nodded their heads and pretended to be making a note about it.) I figured by now somebody must have solved the problem, so I went looking around online, and sure enough, I found just what I wanted.

It’s a tool called MySpeed from

For $29.99 (Windows or Mac), you can use it to speed up or slow down online Flash and HTML5 (FLV and MV4) video. (There’s also a premium version that works with offline files, but it costs more.)

My experience: There’s hardly any informational video that can’t be improved by watching it at 1.4x normal speed. And many can be watched happily at 2x, depending on the content and the speaker’s style. And if you miss anything, you can easily rewind a little and switch (with hotkeys) to normal speed. It can be very satisfying to watch a video in half the time.

There are some caveats, of course: Some sites, like, stream video just fast enough to be played at normal speed, so if you play it faster it will keep pausing to refill the buffer. But Enounce has a free trial version. Check it out. Or let me know if you know of a better one.

BTW, did recently implement it as a feature for the benefit of people watching test videos, and they did a very nice job of it.

Categories: Other


May 6th, 2012 1 comment


UPA slidesUPDATE – June 11th: The results of our survey about why serious usability problems often go unfixed–and our own theories–are now online in our slides from last week’s UPA (or is it UXPA?) at SlideShare. Thanks again to everyone who responded to the survey!


Caroline Jarrett and I are doing a session at the UPA conference in June (in beautiful, oppressively hot downtown Las Vegas) about why people pay for our advice about usability and then ignore it, and we could use your help.

Can you do us a favor and fill out a short survey?

(Caroline won’t let me say just how short it is, because everyone’s mileage will vary so I’d inevitably be misleading some of you. But I can tell you it’s only eight questions, and five of them are multiple choice. And it’s all on one Web page. And we won’t ask you to identify yourself at all.)


UPDATE: Some folks have been asking what our session is about. I hesitated to explain it to avoid influencing people’s responses, but Caroline (who’s writing a book for UX people on how to do surveys) pointed out that since the survey is exploratory, not statistical, it’s OK.

So here’s the description of our UPA talk, which will be on Thurday, June 7 at 9 am:


“…but the light bulb has to want to change”:
Why do the most serious usability problems we uncover often go unfixed?

As a profession, one of our most important motivations is that we want products to get better. But even when our recommendations are welcomed and apparently highly valued, they often aren’t acted upon–especially, it seems, when the problems involved are serious. This session offers some reasons why this happens, and suggests what we can do to improve our track record.


The title, of course, is a reference to the old joke:

“How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

One. But the light bulb has to want to change.”

Categories: Usability

Make your boss an offer he can’t refuse

February 8th, 2012 2 comments

Your boss, really a nice guyOK. We know your boss. We all know your boss.

He’s a very nice guy, really. But he just hasn’t got any, you know, *money* lying around these days. So he can’t send you to conferences and seminars and workshops anymore. He feels bad about it. (Not quite as bad as you do, but he really does feel bad about it.)

Maybe a few years ago he could send you to things, and maybe next year he’ll be able to again, but not right now. (As Clint Eastwood explained to us during the Super Bowl, it’s halftime in America.)

Here’s your chance to make him feel better about himself, by enabling him to treat you right:

Register for my do-it-yourself usability testing workshop in Mountain View, CA, (March 7th) by Midnight (PST) this Friday, February 10th on Monday, February 13th.

[NOTE: We had a glitch that resulted in early registration going offline at midday Friday. And yes, it was confusion about whether midnight is 12 am vs. 12 pm. So we thought it was only fair to extend it a day.]

Three things will happen:

  • You’ll save $100 by getting the early registration rate of $495. (Even $595 is a bargain when you realize that next year we’ll probably be going back to our pre-recession pricing of $795/$895. But your boss can’t think of anything as a bargain these days.)
  • You’ll come back to work on March 8th all ready to start running your own usability tests. Your (and his) products will be better, your (and his) users will be happier, customer support calls will go down, your boss’s bosses will be happier, and home, as Dickens said, will be more like heaven.

And finally,

  • Our sponsor,, will perform a free mini-usability study of your website.

After you register, we’ll ask for the URL you want tested, and the folks at will get to work:

    • Watching users search Google for what you offer
    • Watching users perform common tasks—such as placing an order—on your website
    • Watching users naturally search the Internet to research your company’s credibility

What they’ll provide you:

    • They’ll set up and run a 3-user test of your site.
    • They’ll give you the complete videos of the three sessions.
    • They’ll annotate the videos, make clips of the highlights, and write a summary of the key findings.
    • And it’s free! (The three user sessions alone ordinarily cost $39 each.)

To take advantage, simply register for my Mountain View workshop by February 10th. Or register for one of the great UX workshops taught by Lou Rosenfeld (Adaptable Information Architecture: How to Say No to Your Next Redesign) and Luke Wroblewski (Web Form Design).

Or take them all for just $995—all three for the price of two!

So, an incredible deal just got better—three best-selling UX authors all teaching highly practical workshops geared toward UX practitioners in an intimate setting (capped at 50). Low prices per workshop. And now this great offer from

What are you waiting for?

Seeking 2br rvr view: must seat 45

October 28th, 2011 5 comments


We (Lou Rosenfeld and I) want to bring our workshops to New York in the Spring, and we’re looking for a nice place to hold them.

A workshop venueHave you attended a talk/seminar/conference somewhere in the Big Apple recently? 

We’re looking for a room that seats about 45 people, with some tables for PCs. It has to be something we could rent for two or three consecutive days, from 8 to 5.

And, of course, a decent screen and PC projector. And wi-fi. Lots of wi-fi.

We’re not looking for a hotel conference room. We actually *like* funky spaces (we’ve done science museums, a silent movie theater, and even a zoo in the past), as long as they’re clean and comfortable.

If you know of anything, please either add a comment here or send me email:


Categories: Other