'Rocket Surgery Made Easy' by Steve Krug
"Usability testing? Man, that's rocket science to me."
"I know nothing about usability testing. You could as well ask me about brain surgery."
These imaginary statements could very well belong to a startup founder, and they might be responsible for the inspiration Steve Krug received to name this month's book.. Usability testing of any kind is the bane of decision-makers at companies. Whether it is a landing page, an app, an e-commerce interface, or just a good ol' conventional website, you know that you have to conduct a usability test to see what works and what doesn't. But it keeps getting delayed because there is always something more urgent and, more importantly, you don't know where to start. In his book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy, Steve Krug lays out a blueprint for usability testing so simple that you would feel bad if you did not give it a shot.
"When fixing problems, try to do the least you can do"
Krug is aware that usability testing is never high on the to-do lists of companies. He takes utmost care not to further complicate the process, which would only make any amendments less likely to be implemented. The title of one of the chapters sums up the author's rationale: "The least you can do." He cheers on the reader throughout the book, telling him that, when it comes to usability testing, "doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing." He keeps the bar so low that you will have no excuses to postpone this task or cancel and feel like a traitor if you fail him.
The author thinks most of the design problems are quite obvious, and even a short test will be enough to reveal them. It's great if you can commit time and resources to run tests with more participants and more frequently, but it's highly likely that you won't. So, Krug's bare-minimum testing is your best bet. And "it works because:
- All sites have problems.
- Most of the serious problems tend to be easy to find.
- Watching users makes you a better designer."
The how and the why
Steve Krug's ideal usability testing consists of three 50-minute tests you conduct one morning every month and a debriefing session afterward. This is how he describes the event:
"Basically, a facilitator sits in a room with the participant, gives him some tasks to do, and asks him to think out loud while he does them.
There's no data gathering involved. Instead, members of the development team, stakeholders, and any other interested parties observe the session from another room, using screen-sharing software. After the tests are finished, the observers have a debriefing session where they compare notes and decide what problems should be fixed and how to fix them."
The key here is to get the participants to keep talking as they navigate the website or app. Hearing what they are trying to do on the tool, what gets them confused, or where they are failing can be an eye-opening exercise for the development team. The team should take notes, write down questions, and discuss the session over lunch to identify the most urgent problems and appropriate fixes.
Krug advises his readers not to obsess over recruiting people who are like their "actual users," reminding them that testing more than three participants generates too much information to digest. These suggestions may sound counterintuitive, but they are perfectly in line with his "simple, informal, small-sample, do-it-yourself usability testing" approach. Keeping that in mind, the book's title could as well be "perfect is the enemy of good."
Rocket Surgery Made Easy is a short, easy-to-read book that removes all the excuses decision-makers list to avoid conducting usability tests. It recommends picking the low-hanging fruit first, no matter how small it is in size. Any improvement is better than no improvement. Rocket Surgery Made Easy provides you with the minimum requirements to get off on the right foot in your usability testing journey.