By David Wierbiki
At its core, user experience and usability amounts to ensuring that the end user finds what they are looking for without effort or without thinking. The user is already thinking about what they want to find. That should be all the effort required. Icons are a great example of not needing to think because the icon visually - cultural differences notwithstanding - represents something everyone can relate to universally... at least that's the idea. When we mention the terms "user experience" or "usability" today, things are a little fuzzy, though. They have become buzzwords. Now we can replace them with simple, coveted, non-thinking power that end users, developers, project managers, executives, etc. simply referred to as "this needs some UX love" or "let’s get UX on this".
They know it is needed, but the actual mysterious impact it has on them mentally is significantly reduced from where it was just a few years ago (as of this writing 2014). Is this bad? Not necessarily. The terms are being used by those who use them frequently and without thinking, yet they understand on a subconscious level that it means the designers will work their magic and make something that resembles a pet rock into something worthy of admiration, ensuring that the end user’s experience is well thought out.
That can't be bad, right? It isn't. As user experience and usability professionals we are in the golden years of our trade. What we do is recognized as necessary and highly desired. We can make strong cases for the why and produce copious amounts of well documented material backing up the reasons to the business side of projects for doing the right thing.
So, back to our job and helping people not think. The quicker the end user finds what they are looking for the better. One of the best places to start with learning how to help people not think is by picking up Steve Krug's, "Don’t Make Me Think". I reference this book with new clients during the discovery phases and talk about what we as user experience professionals do to ensure their project's success. Originally I only referenced it as a resource, but over time I have found that more and more non-designers read the book after I mention it - and seek me out to talk about it afterwards.
Krug's writing style and direct approach was consciously done so that anyone can read the book in a single airplane trip. It is a quick and easy read with simple to grasp concepts around a well thought out and honed approach to usability and usability testing. The book is geared completely around helping you help the user not think. Everything we do as user experience and usability experts is centered around the user not thinking to find things, increasing findability.
I first encountered Krug in 2003 at a joint seminar between himself and Louis Rosenfeld in Atlanta while serving as a User Interface Designer at Deloitte & Touche. The seminar and materials I acquired there changed things for me and ultimately paved the way for being a better designer, usability tester and critical thinker around information organization and user centered design. That pavement has been well worn and repaved along the way, but I can still go back to the fundamentals of what pointed me in the right direction, reference them, quote them and point others towards these resources. My thinking is that the sooner people encounter Don’t Make Me Think, the better.
The book is in it’s third edition and has remained largely unchanged. How can that be? Surely with all the advances in technology the book would need to be rewritten entirely as a result, right? Largely, no. As Jakob Nielson stated, "The human brain’s capacity doesn’t change from one year to the next, so the insights from studying human behavior have a very long shelf life. What was difficult for users twenty years ago continues to be difficult today." Even with that said, we still discover new trends in human behavior on a regular basis because we're pushing new ways for the end user to absorb information or interact with an interface constantly. Large screen TV interfaces, smartwatches, phablets and whatever is coming around the bend tomorrow. Usability and the study of not making people think will simply continue because humans will continue to develop new technologies and interaction devices or platforms. The most notable addition to the book was the inclusion of mobile usability, bringing it up to date with where we’re at currently. I make a point to revisit the book routinely - along with a few others - to help bring me back to the truth of what I do, as it is very easy to get caught up in the daily grind. We've used the book during a UX book of the month review here at Isos. Judging by the discussions that ensued, the individual readers were engaged and easily drawn into the messages being delivered. And the concepts stuck too!
Everyone in your organization that has anything to do with software development should read this book. Business analysts, designers, developers, QA, project managers, project champions and executives. Each individual, every project and the organization as a whole will benefit from it.