Ask not what government Web sites can do for you…

September 20th, 2011 2 comments

If, like me, you sometimes wish there was something you could do to help our government (besides vote and pay your taxes), here’s a chance to put your accumulated User Experience skills to good use.

As part of a .gov reform initiative launched this summer by the White House, the GSA is running a two-week online conversation with web experts and the public to generate ideas for re-inventing how the federal government delivers information and services online.

From now until Friday, Sept. 30, head on over to the National Dialogue on Improving Government Websites and add your two cents to the discussion. Bright ideas particularly welcome. No whiners, please.

Also, a number of UX folks have been asked to help move the discussion along, and I’m very pleased to be one of them. In addition to putting in our two cents worth whenever we have a chance, each of us “experts” has an assigned hour to be commenting live. So if you can, swing by on Thursday at 3 pm ET, when Jakob Nielsen and I will be hanging out in the Usability and Design topic.

[Update: The “live” hour is over, but Jakob and I are still reading and commenting every day. (I even added two ideas of my own.) So please drop by and add an idea or comment and vote on everyone else’s.]

Categories: Usability

Would a big league glove give you confidence?

September 8th, 2011 18 comments

One of my all-time favorite advertisements was for baseball gloves.

I remember seeing it in the back of comic books, alongside ads for things like sea monkeys, X-ray glassesant farms, and Charles Atlas. (Yes, I’m really that old.)

Would a big league glove give you confidence?It asked you six questions about yourself, and if you answered four or more of them “YES” then you needed to get a Wilson pro model major league glove.

I started searching for the ad on the Internet in 1999 when I wanted to use it to make a point in Don’t Make Me Think, but I couldn’t find a copy until just a few months ago.

The problem turned out to be defective memory. It actually wasn’t in comic books at all, but in Boys’ Life, the Boy Scout magazine. (I was never a scout, but my brother was, and I loved reading Boys’ Life.)

The ad has stuck in my mind all these years because of the last question: Would a big league glove give you confidence? Somehow, this always struck me as advertising at its very best. I don’t think a month ever goes by without me thinking of that phrase in one context or another. (Seriously.)

But now that I look at it as an adult who’s been subjected to a lifetime of advertising, I can see that the whole thing was brilliant.

If you read it, you’ll see that they hook you right away by feeding you two softball (no pun intended) questions that you can answer without a moment’s thought: Do you play ball at least three times a week? and Are you a member of an organized team? It reminds me of one of BJ Fogg’s brilliant points about what it really takes to change a behavior: start with small, dead-easy steps (to paraphrase badly).

Then they appeal to the dreamer in you (what I suppose we’d call aspirational now): Would you like a major league career? Again, who has to think about it? Who wouldn’t like a career in major league baseball–even then, when it paid a tiny fraction of what it does now?

Then the questioners establish their own credibility by acknowledging that this isn’t just going to happen magically: Are you willing to devote long hours of practice to baseball? These are clearly smart, knowledgeable, worldly-wise people. And in return for a career in the majors, even long hours sound like a small price to pay. After all, how long can “long hours” be? I already practice a lot.

Then they turn to practical considerations: Is your old glove worn out or too small? “How do they know these things about me,” you wonder? Of course you need a new glove. How could you possibly hope to get to the majors with that hand-me-down you’re using now? What a ridiculous idea. Buying a new glove clearly isn’t just some frivolous expenditure; it’s an investment in your now-almost-certain future in professional baseball.

And finally, the killer: Would a big league glove give you confidence? In your heart of hearts, it’s suddenly crystal-clear to you: like the Tin Man, all you really need, all that’s actually been standing between you and the seventh game of a World Series, is some confidence.

This is followed by the incredibly understated, casual, there’s-nothing-to-it call to action. Not “Tell your father that you really, really need a new glove,” but Ask your Dad to help you select a Wilson pro model glove [when he takes you on your next heartwarming father-son trip to] your sporting goods store. Of course Dad will help you pick one out. What father wouldn’t?

Notice, not a word anywhere about competitive brands, price, features, or even why a Wilson pro glove is so good.

Sheer genius, in my book.

So, in the same spirit (only without the genius part), here’s my “Should you attend one of Steve Krug’s usability testing workshops?” quiz:

Cartoon of would-be testers

  Yes No
Do you currently run usability tests three or more times a year?    
Would you (and your boss) be happy if you could learn how to do testing faster and cheaper and still get the results you need?    
Do your tests often uncover serious problems that don’t get fixed anyway?    
Are you willing to devote one day to learning how to do testing, or improving your existing skills?    
If you don’t do any testing, would you like to?    
Are you hoping to someday have the words “user experience” or “usability” in your job title?    
Would you win more usability-related arguments around the office if you could say things like, “Well, that’s the way Steve Krug told me we should do it”?    
Can you manage to get to Washington DC on Sept. 7,
Seattle on Sept. 27, or London on Oct. 6?
Would spending a day with Steve Krug learning
how to do testing give you confidence?
If you checked “YES” to three or more questions, then you’re ready for a Steve Krug workshop. Print out the workshop page and leave it on your boss’s desk with a cheerful  note that says something like “I could do this in Seattle on the 27th. Only $495.”

P.S. Early registration for Seattle and London ends tomorrow (Sept. 9th).

Tweet to win! (A signed book)

September 2nd, 2011 1 comment

Lou Rosenfeld (well, his publishing arm, Rosenfeld Media) is having a Twitter contest to promote our Fall workshops (DC, Seattle, and London).

Pretty simple:

  • You tweet (or retweet) a few words about our workshops.
  • Include the hashtag #UXworkshops and the URL
  • You’ll automagically get a chance to win one of my books, signed (inscribed, even, if you tell me what to write; nothing too obscene, though, please).

He’ll be giving away one book each Friday in September (starting next Friday).

There’s a sample Tweet and a much better explanation (including the fact that you could choose a signed copy of Lou’s book, or Indi Young’s, instead) on Lou’s site at

Good luck, and thanks for the help.

You say “potato,” I say “focus group”

August 12th, 2011 15 comments

There’s one phenomenon you really should be prepared for when you introduce the idea of usability tests in your organization…

Seriously. This really happens. All the time.

The problem is that a lot more people are familiar with focus groups than with usability tests. So sometimes no matter how often you correct them (politely and patiently, of course), they’ll still refer to your upcoming usability tests as…focus groups.

The good news is that as soon as you get them to actually come and observe a test, the difference becomes clear and the problem goes away. But until then, it can be disconcerting. And sometimes amusing.

Make sure you have your 30-second elevator pitch explanation of the difference down pat, something like

Usability tests are about watching people actually try to use what we’re building, so we can detect and fix the parts that confuse or frustrate them.

Focus groups are about having people talk about things, like their opinions about our products, their past experiences with them, or their reactions to new ideas that we show them.

So the main difference is that in usability tests, you watch people actually use things, instead of just talk about them.”

Categories: Usability

printf(“hello, world”)

August 11th, 2011 23 comments

For a long time now, I’ve written something new pretty regularly. Once every five years, like clockwork.

Three books in ten years

In between, I’ve never published much of anything. For example, 185 tweets in 2 years, and almost all of them just blatant (“Come to my workshop!”) self promotion.

140 characters just isn’t enough room for me to rub two thoughts together. And writing a whole article is as daunting to me as writing another whole book.

But I’m finally at a point where it seems silly to go for years without putting anything out there. So I’m going to try blogging.

I may not post often, but I will try to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high. (Or low. Whichever is the good one.) Hopefully, some of it will turn out to be useful to someone.

As my friend Joe Ferrara said in high school, “I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but I’d like to clarify a few things.”

Wish me luck.

Categories: Usability