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

About a month ago, Newman wrote a post titled 4 Points of Wisdom from Steve Krug’s ‘Rocket Surgery Made Easy’. He was reading the book and wanted to share his insights. At the time, I was immersed in the James Gleick book ‘The Information’. And if you’re a regular reader, you know that led us on a week long journey exploring how entropy is related to web design and user testing. Oh yes, it got serious.

Now it’s my turn to go through ‘Rocket Surgery Made Easy’ and I have 4 more points of wisdom that I learned from reading through the book.

#1. Prove vs. Improve

This was a bit of a revelation to me. When I think of user testing, I think of trying to make a website better. It never occurs to me that I’m trying to prove something. It just seems obvious that I would be trying to improve things. But when it comes to user testing, it’s possible to do both.

To put it in scientific terms, it’s quantitative testing vs. qualitative testing.

Quantitative testing involves creating a testing methodology adhering to a strict testing protocol to ensure non-biased results. If it sounds like a science test, with a hypothesis and all of that, you’d be right. And because there’s a hypothesis and you’re looking for valid data feedback, it is setting out to prove something.

Qualitative testing is much less formal. It’s not focused on proving anything. Instead, its focus is on making things better.

Certainly, there’s room for both types of testing but when it comes to actually doing the testing, for most businesses, it will be more time and cost effective to concentrate on improving things. And doing that is as easy as asking for an opinion.

#2. Why Down-and-Dirty Qualitative Testing Gets Results

Deep down, we all know that nothing is free. So what gives here? Why does it seem like the testing type that requires less rigor, time, effort, and money seem to be the one that actually works? Simply put: it’s because ‘good enough’ is good enough. And by the time you’ve exhausted insights from qualitative testing, you’ll be in a better position to do quantitative testing.

Krug lays out three reasons in particular why qualitative testing works:

1. All sites have problems

Settle down.

I’ve never come across a website that couldn’t use a little work. Apparently, neither has Steve Krug. One of the main reasons that water cooler user testing works is because there’s always room for improvement.

2. Most of the serious problems tend to be easy to find

In the dust of creating a website, it’s easy to get too close to the whole operation. A common issue comes from troubleshooting problems. These problems can be technical or organizational or even baked into the business plan. Eventually a solution is found and implemented. Sure, it managed to go all Matrix on all of the problems and managed to dodge all of the bullets but that doesn’t mean that the solution was the right one for the user.

The first hint that you're too close.

When you find a non-interested party and get feedback, the major issues will crop up again and again. You can’t see the forest for the trees. They can.

The forest from 'Return to Zork' still haunts my dreams.

3. Getting stakeholders involved in user testing gives them a reality check on who their users are

Another common mistake that’s made during the planning phase of web design is that it’s created for an ‘average user’.  The problem is, the average user tends to bear little resemblance to their actual average user. The obvious remedy is to go find some ‘average users’. Technologically, we can do just that.

Use a tool like Inspectlet (which Newman has been using and blogging about) or one of the other ‘Heatmaps / Mouse Tracking Tools’ we have in the sidebar to record your user’s sessions. Share those  videos with all the stakeholders and then stand back. Everybody will get a new insight about the ‘average user’ and will immediately want to talk about it. It’s pretty remarkable to watch, actually.

Who you think your users are.

Who your users actually are.

This has the wonderful effect of getting everybody to focus on the right thing: improving the user experience.

#3. Test other people’s websites

This is just brilliant. User testing can (and should!) happen even before the first napkin sketch is drawn. How? Test the websites of your competitors or of somebody else in the same field. Test sites that have features you’re thinking of implementing. A cup of coffee and a conversation could save you weeks of work.

Remember, this is not rocket surgery. It’s basically asking people their thoughts about a website. Nothing says that you only can ask people about your website. As Krug says, “someone has gone to the trouble of building a full-scale working prototype of a design approach to the same problems you’re trying to solve, and then they’ve left it lying around for you to use.”

#4. Test for ease of understanding

That was easy!

This bit seemed to echo the Smashing Magazine article ‘Easier is Better Than Better‘ we discussed on Monday’s podcast. The gist of the article is that:

“People choose not on the basis of what’s most important, but on what’s easiest to evaluate.”

Or more simply stated, “Don’t Make Me Think!“.

Websites do two things: provide information for a user to consume and provide a way to filter out all of the other information.

You may know this as our ‘filter’ and ‘confirming’ pages that we talk about again and again. Web pages, until you get to an information page, whether that’s a YouTube video, or a contact page, or a product description page, or MLS search results, are known as ‘filters’. This is because their main role is to get you to the information you’re there to view. The most obvious of these filter pages is the front page.

On most front pages of website, they exist to shuffle visitors off to other pages. They are not a destination page in-and-of themselves. The essence of filtering is clarity. And clarity can be measured by watching how people interact with a page. The easier it is to navigate the page, the lower cognitive load and the higher the success rate.

People want ‘easy’ more than they want ‘better’. If your site isn’t easy, it won’t have a chance to show that it’s ‘better’ because finding another website is just as easy.

This testing can be done even at the napkin-sketch phase. Just ask somebody who isn’t involved with the project to tell you what they see in the sketch. Listen to what they have to say. Chances are they’ll say “oh, this looks like a site for ____ and what’s this ‘experience’ button?” or something to that effect and you’ll immediately hone in on what doesn’t make sense to your users.

Final Thoughts

I can see why this book is the go-to resource for easy and effective user tests. It maintains a laser-like focus on how to improve your website with user testing. It’s filled with good nuggets. Certainly enough to do at least a third installment of this series. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s the perfect compliment for the various user testing tools that we sample here on the site.

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