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.


If you’re like me, you spent the better part of 2009 exploring the explosion of emerging social media tools. This year has brought a lot of “wow”, a little “whoa!”, and a whole lot of “what next”? The jury is out on Google Wave, as many of us who received our beta invite seem to be waving out into the abyss. The ‘new wavers’ asked the same question of Twitter in many cases, “what exactly is the value proposition here. Who cares?” For many organizations, this was the year of the try, of the first tentative toe dips into the social technologies that may become the cornerstone of our strategic plans. The first tweets. The inaugural Facebook page. Wrapping our heads around the coming of the Cloud. The opportunities that technology presents for campaigns, collaboration, networking, and audience building are vast and far-reaching. The walls are crumbling, my friends.
At this time of year, we reflect on the brickbats and bouquets of the last year, often presented in the form of a retrospective Top 10 list. I’d like to tweak that retrospective into a plan for the future. In 2010, what tools are you going to try? In honour of those who have seen evidence of a softening of resistance to new tools within their respective organizations, I’d like to present a gift. Here are my 2010 New Year’s Resolutions. You might also consider them stocking stuffers to unwrap and add to your 2010 toolkit.

1. I will consciously rephrase Return on Investment with Return on Engagement.

2. I will make a big effort to respect and segment my audiences. I will avoid spray and pray messaging, and give my email list the ability to opt out easily, or to tell me what information they value from me. I will investigate excellent email clients like MailChimp and Vertical Response, which offer free accounts and discounts for non-profits.

3. I will build networks with colleagues from near and far to explore best practices. We’re all in this social change business together. I will explore the WeAreMedia project and participate in the building of a toolkit and learning community for non-profits and educators.

4. I will bolster my clients’ budgets by encouraging them to explore TechSoup’s technology wishlist, which brings donated software to non-profits for only an administration fee.

5. I will stop lamenting my design challenges and the cost of Photoshop by downloading Gimp and Piknik and learning to make beautiful things. I won’t get frustrated and throw a banana at the window, because skill-building takes time and Rome wasn’t built in a day.

6. I will establish channels to achieve a greater reach. I will add to the growing repository of quality information on Slideshare, YouTube/Vimeo, and wikis. I’ll try to start my own with WikiSpaces or pbworks.

7. I will share my Twitter lists as a method of movement building.

8. I will become a better content creator by embracing the visual and getting to know Jing, Skitch, xtranormal, and Prezi. I will be a dynamic presenter and not put people to sleep (although I will try to get a good 7 hours myself).

9. I will commit to the principles of great storytelling, and use humour and vision as a means to engage my audiences. I’ll indicate what could be rather than what isn’t. I’ll look at the amazing content that Freerange Studios creates, and get inspired.

10. I’ll expand my audiences beyond the 18 blocks of my organization by using great online meeting and presentation services, like DimDim and UStream.

11. I’ll consciously moderate and engage with the comments readers have written on my blog.

12. I will take a good, hard look at the content on my website. I will make sure that it is readable, accessible, and interesting. I will make analytics my responsibility and share the diagnoses with others. I will look at what isn’t being read. I’ll make RSS easy and accessible. I’ll commit to a usability review, monthly, for continuous improvement.

13. I will help to connect people by building and participating in communities of common purpose.

14. I will re-read Nudge, because I care about our collective well-being and want to build a better world.

You’ll notice that none of my resolutions revolve around chocolate consumption or treadmills. That was a conscious, realistic decision. And since it’s already January 6, let’s not focus on the resolutions we’ve already broken!


The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.