Went a bit book mad in the last few weeks.  Real books – the kind made from paper, glue, and ink.  It might have been e-reader envy, as no Sony Reader appeared in my stocking (not that I’d know how to use one).  And because I’m bad at surprises (including surprises for myself), I’ve delved a little into each one to gain a sense of priority.  In a successful “delve”, however, sometimes you have to keep going as the hook is so strong and the content so persuasive. The clock ticks past 1 am, but there’s just so. much. good. stuff.

I can’t imagine falling asleep with an e-reader on my face, but I’d gladly snuggle up with Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy:  The Do-it-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems.  If you read Krug’s seminal Don’t Make Me Think (and even if you haven’t), this timely follow-up pushes you to go further in thinking about and doing the things that will ensure a positive user experience with your website, your product, and your ideas.  The kicker is that it really is easy – a morning a month.  Krug focuses on qualitative results, think out loud reactions and continuous improvement, which is inherently more iterative and insight-based than typical measurement tests and attempting to act on data in the hazy post-experience fugue.

Key takeaways include:

  • Testing early, and often, in the development process is easier and more cost-effective in the long run than trying to get it right after launch.  Development, from the napkin sketch to the first wireframes, should be a learning exercise and should involve intended users who may have a very different experience from that which was intended.  If you know that early on, the “re-do” can lead you down the right path at the right time.  Early prototype testing becomes your efficiency and cost-effectiveness insurance. Does your user “get it”?  Best of all, Krug teaches you how to test and who to test with, right down to the recruitment, screening, and follow up.
  • Tasks with scenarios built in provide the requisite context to achieving insights. The task becomes meaningful and the results are based in behaviours that subjects actually exhibit when using the site/product.  Although we try to create personas in the design stage, nothing can replace actually watching someone attempt to implement your idea. Wait! I didn’t think of that! And you wouldn’t, unless you watch.
  • The thought balloon principle, or “Mind reading made easy” as Krug calls it, externalizes the experience and provides you with authentic, real-time reaction. There’s a fine line between effective probing and planting suggestions.  Make Freud proud by pulling information and encouraging participants to externalize their thought process.  Act like a therapist. Krug even provides a script to help you maintain that critical neutrality.
  • Tweak, don’t redesign. The problems and fixables identified from the testing process can be overwhelming, but taking a tweak approach can result in faster changes that are more likely to happen, and are more likely to improve the user experience with the actual observed problem.  A redesign runs the risk of breaking things that aren’t already broken. Take something away to make it simpler.

Best of all, the book includes sample test scripts, consent forms, and checklists to ensure that you haven’t forgotten a thing.  Did you start the screen recorder? Order lunch for the debriefing? Set up bookmarks?  Every detail is covered, and you can download modifiable versions from the companion website.  Foolproof!  Short of asking Steve Krug to move in and become your personal guru, the book really provides everything else you need to do to commit to improvement.  We all want results, and Rocket Surgery provides a realistic and comprehensive plan for getting them.

See the rest of the SpaceRace 2010 Reading list here.