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4 Points of Wisdom from Steve Krug’s ‘Rocket Surgery Made Easy’

The book I’m reading: Steve Krug’s “Rocket Surgery Made Easy“. It’s a short 168 page instruction manual for performing user-tests on websites.  Following the success of his first book on web usability, “Don’t make me think”, Steve taught workshops for businesses and organizations to instruct them in how to implement the ideas in the book. “Rocket Surgery” is that workshop in book form.

First name basis with Steve

I like Steve enough to call him by his first name. His style is very personable and direct. He is obviously insightful and thoughtful, and yet communicates in a concrete style that makes the topic easy to understand. He does use clichés too much and speaks with quotes and axioms often – I cut him some slack because that’s what I do.

I think it’s easy to understand – where other, more pedantic manuals are not – is the personalification principle (I could be making this up b/c  I can’t find a reference) . He speaks directly to the reader, as if engaged in conversation. He is writing for a clearly define audience – those wanting to use the ideas in the first book or wanting to user-test websites. He speaks with the audience, not at the audience. You become engaged with the material and you learn more.

I like the book and can recommend it whole heartedly. Here are just a few takeaways that I’d like to share and promote among other web usability practitioners.

Test everything, all the time

Feng-GUI of the Rocket Surgery Made Easy book cover

Test the sketch on the napkin, test the wire-frame, test the page mockups, test the landing pages, EVENT test competitor’s websites before you even have a sketch.(great way to do market analysis) He illustrates the common pitfall of testing too late and the reluctance to test in the early stages of design. Any product of the design process can be tested and those tests can lead to small corrections that avoid big mistakes later in the process

He says it’s never too early to start testing a website – I agree. A small thing in the beginning of a project can become a big thing later. Small and early is easy to fix while big and late is hard to fix. Don’t delay, test today. Don’t worry about not being perfect or not being ready, because…

Perfect is the enemy of Good

Voltaire says "Perfect is the Enemy of Good" and I believe it.

There has to be some truth to this or there wouldn’t be so many dang quotes about it. Personally, I have three or four I use and switch between – “Put the ball in the fairway” and “Put the ball in play” and “Base hits, not homeruns”. … it keeps going, “you can’t catch fish, unless your line is in the water” and “A good plan in action is better than the best plan on the shelf.”

It means that we should resist the temptation towards perfectionism and that we should think about gradual improvement instead of “all or nothing”. There is a Japanese term for it that is popular in management circles – “Kaizen“. This idea fits with Steve’s practical, simple style – it works and that’s good enough.

KISS – Keep it simple, smarty-pants

Keeping it simple, I put this here for your enjoyment.

Simple and practical is serviceable and useful. Simple holds up under pressure and close inspection. Everything about the book and its procedures is to reduce the complexity in order to make user-testing more likely to occur. Simple tests, simple reports, and simple improvements are essential to building a user-testing culture in an organization. Why? Because, complexity doesn’t yield better results. This is especially true when compared to not doing any testing at all.

One of his axioms states “one morning a month, that’s all we ask”. He is making it clear that the investment is small and the return can be big. His ‘small, non-honkin’ report’ should be written in 30 minutes and read in 2.

Lo and Behold “Maxims”

Steve uses 6 maxims to summarize his advice to user-testers. I’ve listed them here with a few notes:

  1. A morning a month, that’s all we ask
  2. Start earlier than you think makes sense
  3. Recruit loosely and grade on a curve
  4. Make it a spectator sport
  5. Focus ruthlessly on a small number of the most important problems
  6. When fixing problems, always do the least you can do

And, here is my interpretation. (matched by number)

  1. We (user-testing group) need resources and attention (from the organization), but it’s not going to be much.
  2. Always be testing and test as much as you can afford.
  3. Finding the ‘right’, target market users isn’t as important as you may think – problems and improvements will still be found.
  4. The more stakeholders you can get to view the tests and be involved the better – seeing is believing.
  5. Create a priority list of observed problems and follow through on fixing them.
  6. Simple fixes are better than a total redesign. Subtraction is often better than addition.

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