Rosenfeld and Krug: The usabilty A-Team visits Atlanta

June 7th, 2007

Louis Rosenfeld (the Polar Bear book) and Steve “Don’t Make Think” Krug
visited Atlanta last week for a two-day IA/usabilty workshop. Workshop participants came from Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Red Hat, a large and boisterous crew of local favorite Delta com, and as far away as Germany.

The latest edition of Rosenfeld’s (with co-author Peter Morville) book adds the subheading Designing Large-Scale Web Sites, and Lou concentrated on the challenges of big sprawling sites in his presentation.

Such large-scale sites can benefit from a more gradual and continuous approach over “boiling the ocean,” Lou said, and he provided roadmaps on how to move key areas of large sites over time to better architected and more usable experiences.

We should consider ourselves “information therapists,” he said.

Large sites are often plagued by silo mentalities and politically compartmentalized content. Rosenfeld offered some techniques for cutting across those bureaucratic boundaries…

If you have a site map, use it as a test bed for navigation terms and architecture. Experiment with moving it away from representing the company org chart toward more user centered topical approach.

Site-wide A-Z indexes are often unwieldy and expensive to maintain. Consider offering users smaller specialized indexes that relate to certain topics or content areas.

Using guides — those small groups of related links embedded in or near main content — to address important, common user needs can give users easier access to cross-silo content that may be important to them or their tasks.

Rosenfeld conduced a metadata exercise using a (completely Southern appropriate) Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie, which illustrated some of the challenges — is it creme, cream, or kreme? — of tagging.

On day two, Steve Krug began by sharing his collection of usability nightmare pictures from the real world — relating his own painful experience with a dark Starbucks bathroom, a motion-sensing light, and an inappropriately placed cabinet. A folded towel duct-taped to the cabinet indicated extensive user testing of the same scenario by others.

Krug emphasized user testing of web designs early and often, and not to get caught up in making testing a big production (although it can be if you want to spring for a Tobii eye tracking machine). Even small scale, informal testing is useful.

For example, he suggested “cubicle” testing forms. Mock up the online form you’re designing, complete with fields and instructions, and then visit a fellow cube occupant and observe him or her completing the form manually.

Krug reminded us that focus groups are about opinions, and user testing is about actions. He conducted several live site evaluations with URLs submitted by (somewhat anxious) conference participants. Volunteers from the audience were used for live user tests on stage, demonstrating they could simultaneously use a web site and fend off commentary and jabs (or friendly hisses if they ventured onto a non-Delta airline site) from the audience.

Thanks to the guys for visiting Atlanta and sharing. Please come back (on Delta) and have a Little Debbie and Coke with us, our treat, anytime.

Louis Rosenfeld
Steve Krug

Whom do you want to date?

June 7th, 2007

Dan Heath and Chip Heath, Made to Stick (Random House, 2007), address the “hey” phenomenon of branding in a recent FastCompany column. They started their research with the profiles on

You have two ways to make a quick impression on, your photo and your headline…

Given the stakes, these headlines should really zing. They don’t. We examined more than 1,000 ads–from men and women, old and young. Our search yielded headlines like this one: “Hey.” Folks, if your opening line is “Hey,” you better be hot….

The “Hey” phenomenon is rampant in branding, they point out, and it’s based on fear…

Fear of saying too much. Fear of saying something clever that someone might think is stupid. Fear of saying something revealing that might turn someone off. The headlines try desperately not to exclude anyone. In doing so, they succeed at boring everyone.

To stand out, you have to be willing to turn some people off.

More: “Polarize Me If you want people to like you, first decide who needs to hate you.”

The law of information and the attention economy

April 9th, 2007

While higher ed institutions don’t compete for customers in the retail sense, they do compete for attention and are subject to the law of information.

Alex Iskold discusses both concepts at Read/WriteWeb:

…we no longer read – we skim. The news that used to last a day now lasts just a few hours, simply because we need to pay attention to the new news. So it is becoming increasingly difficult to juggle all the news sources and keep on top of things. Which brings us to the law of information, stated first by Herbert Simon: the rapid growth of information causes scarcity of attention.

Things get more interesting when we realize that our attention crisis is not only our problem. It is also a big problem for news sites, blogs, search engines and online retailers. Our scarcity of attention hurts their economics. The web sites that contain content relevant to us have a big incentive to make sure that we find it.

When information is abundant, the false positives are very costly – they are basically deal breakers. Consumers happily leave sites, knowing there are a ton of alternatives out there….

More: The Attention Economy: An Overview

Google is not (only) a search engine

March 30th, 2007

In a recent issue of Wired, Clive Thompson writes about the new radical transparency in business communications in his article “The See-Through CEO.” Thompson points out that we need to start thinking of Google as more than a search engine:

Google is not a search engine. Google is a reputation-management
system. And that’s one of the most powerful reasons so many CEOs have
become more transparent: Online, your rep is quantifiable, findable,
and totally unavoidable….

“Online is where reputations are made now,” says Leslie Gaines Ross,
chief reputation strategist — yes, that’s her actual title — with
the PR firm Weber Shandwick. She regularly speaks to companies that
realize a single Google search determines more about how they’re
perceived than a multimillion-dollar ad campaign….”Public relations
used to be about having stuff taken down, and you can’t do that with
the Internet.”

Thompson goes on to note that, since you can no longer escape Internet commentary, the only way to have any influence over it is to fully participate. He writes:

Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting material frequently and
often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to
directly influence your Googleable reputation. Putting out more
evasion or PR puffery won’t work, because people will either ignore
it or not link to it — or worse, pick the spin apart and enshrine
those criticisms high on your Google list of life.

More: “The See-Through CEO,” Wired 15.04 (March 2007); Clive Thompson’s blog.

Helvetica, the movie

March 29th, 2007

A new film about a great bunch of characters…

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.

More: Helvetica A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit