Megan Leigh McDonald
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‘Don’t make me think.’ Steve Krug

Megan Leigh McDonald

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In re-reading this book, I have re-discovered valuable excerpts and insights into what I do everyday. There are a few quotes I want to blog about. Nothing fancy today, just a few somewhat random thoughts about User Experience.

“…good design makes users more effective”

Truly, this is the point of good design, although the term ‘design’ is such a broad-based, multi-interpreted word. In the ‘real world’ the title ‘designer’ is often used as a ‘catch-all’ for someone who can do graphics, maybe produce a website and possibly provide some basic usability. But looking more closely at this word, it probably should be more narrowly defined. I read very quickly a prediction (on Adaptive Path or some random Tech article) that the job descriptions calling for a ‘do-it-all’ kind of person would be supplanted by very specific, more narrowly defined descriptions.

Consequently, the kind of designer that I naturally became and am still becoming is a more user-centric one. I studied media user behavior in Graduate School and appreciate a more academic analysis of website usage. I remember back in the day with WebTrends, how the data was focused on uniques and visits and clicks and various user statistics like browser type. But now, using Omniture’s SiteCatalyst I’m completely blown away and (dare I say?) excited. It’s the kind of thing that gets me up and moving in the mornings, for lack of a caffeinated beverage.

Something about examining the numbers is kind of like being a detective. I get to root out where the problems are, where people have trouble using a piece of software or web application. I can’t help it, I did love Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. So this aspect of my job is the one part that gives me the greatest satisfaction. I get to improve the experience for the user. I get to make the user more effective at what he/she does.

There is a huge difference between teaching the user to use the system and designing a system that works for the users because ‘good design makes user more effective’.

Lastminute.com’s 700% Click-thru Increase

I was just reading over a PDF that I downloaded from Omniture. It’s a case study for this travel company lastminute.com which I follow a bit in the news. The two guys who started that company have also started one of my favorite travel social networking companies — www.wayn.com - Where Are You Now?

So this PDF, available for download off of the Omniture website, lays out the business problems that lastminute.com was experiencing. Their problems were overarching big picture problems like trying to figure out what the steps were that customers took between typing in keywords and booking trips, not to mention the customers that dropped off in between these steps.

They used a term I’m not familiar with — ‘look to book’ — I like that. It really describes the kind of user role that would be a ‘browser’ essentially. This really brings me back to graduate school and the persuasive theories in my ‘User Experience Communication’ course. I used this one particular bell curve in a paper I published about CyberHate websites. Basically on one end of the bell curve you have a certain percentage of people who are never going to subscribe to ‘hate sites’ or buy your product. Then on the other side is, for the sake of this example, an equitable percentage of people who will absolutely buy your product. That being said, it’s the large grey area in between those two groups that comprise the biggest opportunities in terms of convincing a person to convert from a ‘maybe’ to a purchaser.

I digress though.

To get back to lastminute.com’s case study, they did an A/B test through SiteCatalyst and discovered that the horizontal menu bar was more successful than a vertical one. After implementing the horizontal navigation, they increased their click through rate from the top navigation menu by 700% which is so insanely successful I can’t imagine what the UE and PM teams must have felt when they crunched the numbers and saw that kind of jump. It must have been an ‘awesome’ moment of triumph.

The other interesting angle to this is the SEM side of things. They were able to analyze how particular keywords performed by tracking the drop off rates on landing pages. When they identified high fallout rates, they looked at the keywords and the content of the page to determine how well they matched. In many cases, they weren’t EXACTLY what the customer was looking for and they were able to improve the experience and reduce the fallout rates.

It definitely makes me think about how to relate this to work. I already have an idea and can’t wait to whip it off to the appropriate person(s).

Ah, Twitter

So when this really cool, knowledgeable Product Manager started, she got me re-interested in Twitter. It’s a simple social tool, really. It is basically a thread of random thoughts that tile down your page. Entwined in it are the random thoughts posted by any of the ‘friends’ that you ‘follow’.

Omniture ClickMap Tool

I have to say that I really love this tool in Omniture.

Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” (again)

Steve Krug's Don't Make Me ThinkSo once in awhile I pick up a standby classic and re-read it just to see if I understand the material in a new way. I have to say most of Steve’s book is awesome stuff, things that I picked up in bits and pieces from seminars, classes and other books and papers. The great part of his book is that he brought all those bits and pieces into one place. He makes really good points. The bit about taking information out of the page is something that really struck me this time and coincides with current work. The best solution to making things stand out sometimes is not adding to the page but taking away. In the trenches it’s not always easy to see that we’re just moving some information from one pile and into an even bigger pile of information. It’s too much like cleaning your apartment by moving it all into the closet. Sooner or later, someone’s going to open it and file an insurance claim you.

But enough of metaphors. The most valuable part of this book for me at this point in time though is the very end in the chapters about testing. Focus groups and ‘garage sale’ usability tests are relatively new to me. As a UE Designer in my current position, I participated in a formal focus group of our products last year. It reminded me of my grad school days and the scientific way I approached the business of design back then before getting thrown into the ‘real world’. Focus groups carry an inherent academic slant to them and sometimes convincing people in business of their worth is an obstacle.

I was overjoyed then to be able to participate in two more rounds of informal, internal usability sessions that followed. The last few chapters of Steve Krug’s book are like a recipe for getting some interesting exploratory research results for very little money and relatively little effort. It’s amazing that more people don’t conduct these. It definitely makes me crave to either set more of these up at work and of course will be a deciding factor in any new positions I consider in the future. It actually makes me interested in possibilities within usability research firms themselves. I’ll have to explore more on the Internet about companies like this. It appeals to my academic side. I have urges to dig up my old publications from graduate school.

At any rate, Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think” always makes me think…hmmm, I wonder if he read this blog, would he be slapping his forehead right now?