Better Know a Speaker: Steve Krug

You may have heard that An Event Apart is expanding. 2007 will see big, two-day shows in fine, fancy towns like Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, and San Francisco—with more great speakers than before and at a lower ticket price per day.

Steve Krug

Take Boston, and consider but one of our nine featured speakers, Mr. Steve Krug (biography, business website), author of the game-changing usability tome Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, now in its second edition. I can’t believe we got him. I’m still awed that he said yes.

If not for Steve Krug, I wouldn’t so much as speak the word “usability” in the privacy of my home, let alone bandy it about in mixed company. Curt Cloninger memorably expressed what many of us felt when he wrote “Usability experts are from Mars, graphic designers are from Venus” in the July 28, 2000 issue of A List Apart.

Stop and smell the brimstone

Like many design professionals, I rejected usability when I first encountered it. That’s mainly because I first encountered it as a series of rules, put forward by business-oriented, lab-coat-wearing experts who were hostile to the aesthetic component of user experience. Later, the rules would soften. “Only use blue, underlined links” would give way to gentler and more flexible guidelines.

And even before this softening, there was much in the early, fire-and-brimstone approach to usability that was actually of value to web designers. I should have been open-minded enough to benefit from the helpful bits and wink at the rest. But I was too busy defending my creative turf (not to mention reliving old battles with badly run focus groups and cocky account execs) to look closer and see that usability mainly means designing for the people who use my site.

And then along came Mary

Don’t Make Me Think. Starting with his book’s very title, Steve Krug made me see. Advancing from one low-key, guilt-free, common-sense premise to the next, Don’t Make Me Think made me think. And think. Above all, it made me rethink.

Icon from archived Happy Cog projects page (non-hover state).

Consider an archived Happy Cog portfolio page. Ignore the problem of orange-on-orange, which falls more under accessibility than usability. Focus on the page’s unusual means of presenting written content. When you click an icon, relevant text emerges. Click again, and it disappears. For instance, when you gently tap Cate Blanchett, you get text about the Charlotte Gray website we designed for Warner Bros.

It’s nifty stuff—at least for a non-Flash, pre-Ajax site. Or is it? I had fun designing it; other designers had fun reverse-engineering it and adding the same show and hide effects to their pages. I even shared the code in the first edition of Designing With Web Standards, mainly to prove how easy it was to use CSS, JavaScript, and the DOM to create playful interfaces that roughly mimicked the behavior of applications and kiosk-based presentations.

But the page’s usability is awful. How could a visitor possibly know that she is supposed to click an icon to reveal pertinent hidden text? She couldn’t. Hence the explanatory text at the top of the page. If you have to explain how your interface works, maybe you need to rethink the whole thing.

Steve Krug didn’t drop by my house to tell me my design was overwrought and under-thought. And he wouldn’t have put it that way, anyway. He’s way too nice a guy, not to mention way too experienced a consultant, to base his tutelage on insults. But his book woke my conscience and reshaped how I approach my craft.

His book, which you can read during a business flight, makes a convincing case for studying your audience, learning their needs, creating pathways of experience that you hope will meet those needs, and then testing, testing, testing.

Krug convinces because he is witty, and charming, and humble, and mostly because his ideas make sense and ring true. Boiled down, the essence of usability is the same as the essence of all good design: Think more so your users don’t have to think at all.

Design, after all, is about solving problems. Start with your user’s.

Please come to Boston

An Event Apart Boston 2007

My Event Apart co-host Eric Meyer and I don’t know exactly what Steve Krug will talk about on March 26 or 27 on our stage at Marriott Copley Place. We only know we will be privileged to be among his listeners. Registration for An Event Apart Boston 2007 will open in January, 2007. (A lot) more information about the show will be available very soon.

In coming weeks, in these pages, I’ll share what each of our exciting speakers means to me. Meanwhile, enough about me and Steve Krug. What does Steve Krug mean to you?

[tags]aneventapart, Steve Krug, usability, design, webdesign, boston, conferences[/tags]

39 thoughts on “Better Know a Speaker: Steve Krug

  1. Everything Jeffrey said, and more. I can’t believe we’re going to have Steve Krug as a speaker, and that I’ll finally get to actually meet him! If he’s even half as fun and witty in person as he is in print, all the other speakers will have a very tough time matching him.

  2. Ditto. Reading Steve Krug’s book definitely made me more open minded to the concept of usability, especially in comparison to other usability information that was concurrently available. Even if he just recited every word in the book, seeing him do it in person would be valuable enough.

  3. Yup, Krug — and Spool — were the ones that did it for me.

    I think calling the earlier era “fire-and-brimstone” may be giving it more credit than it’s due. Many of the earlier proponents just didn’t speak in a language that designers could understand. In a sense, their Spiel wasn’t all that usuable for us.

  4. Hooray! Steve Krug rocks. “Don’t Make Me Think” is not only brilliant, it’s both slender enough and layman-friendly enough that I can give it to clients to “review for background” without making their eyes glaze over. Saves me no end of unreasonable requests later in the project.

  5. Steve Krug’s Don’t make me think was one of the books I bought while visiting San Francisco a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve read the book at least three times and it sits in my bookself just for those quick reminders when I think I’m trying to do something in a bit too complicated way. Just an added bonus I found out a while ago that the book has been translated into Finnish, which really removes all the imaginable barriers one could have about usability.

    To sum it up, if you play even the tiniest part in the field of web design you should have a copy of Don’t make me think. I really hope that I could come to Boston, nut the flight tickets alone cost a fortune. So here is to hoping that “A book apart” gives something to the rest of us who can’t attend.

  6. I am being extremely pedantic here, but is it not ironic that Steve Kurg’s website (although, not assuming he is into web standards) does not even contain a DOCTYPE nor any modern markup.

    I am by no means saying he is not clever, but to me it seems slightly strange for a usability professional to still use font tags, image maps (for navigation) and spacing td tags.

  7. Listen up… and listen up good! Boston may be the twin city of Halifax but it still ain’t the same as bringing the road show TO Halifax. Aaagh the hell with it… I’ll go to Boston. It’s as close as makes no difference 8 )

  8. Funny timing. I just read Don’t Make Me Think for the first time, having finally got the “round tuit” handed to me (well, the book actually).

    It brought together a lot of gut feel ideas, together with plenty of things that made sense just as soon as Krug pointed them out :) Advanced common sense indeed. Every web developer should read this book.

    I’d say every manager and CEO should read it too, but there’s aiming high and there’s aiming wishful ;)

  9. We bought Don’t Make Me think at the same time as a certain blue and green usability book.
    I can see Steve Krug’s book as I type this — it is battered and dog-eared. It has been around the office countless times.
    The other book? Not sure where it is right now. Maybe I will look for it later…

  10. I find it amusing that by random clicking, I found the I3 Forum website. Which is, ironically, apparently long dead. And broken in FF2

    The i3forum templates are still available at Happy Cog if you want to see how that site worked. i3forum is no longer in business; that’s probably why the site you found is broken.

  11. We are only now just beginning to understand what usability and accessibility
    means not only to the person using a website but to the information within.
    The power of declarative logic with respect to information can not be stressed

  12. Wow, congratualtions on landing Mr. Krug as a speaker. Now only if you can get him to come to Chicago as well!

    I haven’t purchased his book, but my public library was nice enough to purchase a copy of it for inclusion in its collection. In fact, that’s how I was exposed to Steve Krug in the first place (not to mention Molly Holzschlag, the Godfather of CSS himself, Eric Meyer and you).

    I won’t be able to attend the Boston conference, but I will do my best to attend the Chicago one; if you can sign him up for Chi-town as well, that would be a real plus (maybe next year?).

  13. Am I the only one who’s seeing some really ugly text on this blog now?
    When I take out the line:

    font: small/18px “Lucida Sans”…

    It looks fine, but otherwise, the f’s and H’s are bold, some letters like a get cut off in places and it’s just…gross.

  14. Steve Krug’s book has proven invaluable in discussions with clients and potential clients. His approach – forthright, specific, and unfussy – has served as a model when designing anything – web or print. Don’t know if I’ll be able to swing Boston right after SXSW, but I’d hate to miss it.

  15. Hi Jeffrey,

    Only came across you site today and like it! I too am a fan of Krug and his teachings.

    We’ve created (free to the consumer) software that takes the opposite approach to “think more so your users don’t have to think at all.” Since most web designers don’t think we let the user -at a press of a button- convert documents/pages to their preferred format. So they always read the way they like.

    Please try it out and let me know what you think.

  16. I think you could rave on about the brilliance of Don’t Make Me Think for pages, but let me use a simple point – the spine of the book is the width of my little finger (my hand is average-sized, by the way). That Steve could present the idea in question in such a concise, clear and easy-to-digest format says it all, really.

    Hey on another point – when are we going to see An Event Apart Sydney? The koalas don’t bite. Really.

  17. Jeffrey, I think you are being too hard on yourself re the archived Happy Cog Portfolio page. The usage was obvious (and ingenious) to me right away. I still encounter people who are afraid to click on things. “But, you see, thats what you do on the Web. You point, you click. Go ahead, see for yourself!”
    And today I design to put information out front without gizmos. Your design work really lit me up! I still use show/hide divs for various mechanisms on my web sites.

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  19. I got the book in college during a course in web design. Talk about an eye opener! I am still using the book to keep me on the straight and narrow. Since non-designers are not likely to know what the designer have in mind, it makes sense to guide them in a subtle way. I try to explain to my clients why it is better not to have those “mystery meat” navigation, whether it be flash or CSS/HTML or DHTML or create those “neat” doohickeys doodads that sometimes becomes the content rather than lead to the content. Anyway, I hope that my portfolio site conveys the message that I care more about the content and my design will only enrich the content and not overpower them. Also that users don’t have to think too much while navigating around.

  20. Think more so your users don’t have to think at all.

    Yes, I’m all for it. My challenge is getting this “thinking” time alotted in the project budget!

    I hope I can make it to the conference as I’m sure Steve will touch on this subject.

  21. Congratualtions on landing Mr. Krug as a speaker. Now only if you can get him to come to Chicago as well!

  22. Indeed, Krug is a man with a passion for his work. Steve and I have known each other for years. He is likely the only master in his area of expertise.

  23. think you could rave on about the brilliance of Don’t Make Me Think for pages, but let me use a simple point – the spine of the book is the width of my little finger (my hand is average-sized, by the way).

  24. and I’ll forgo a few bookmarking and security perks if it means looking at something pretty as opposed to something ugly.Safari wins?Top 10 reasons to switch to FireFox brain-hurting browser comparison Which browser is best?
    is a little too nerd chic. It’s blocky and reminds me of Netscape. On Safari the internet has a far better aesthetic value,

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