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Is Usability Taking a Nose Dive?

This presentation was hosted by NELAUX (Northeast Los Angeles UX, and LAUX at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in June 2014.

Video of the presentation and the Q&A that followed is available at

After all of us who work in UX and usability spent so many years trying to get people to pay attention to the user, Steve Jobs finally went ahead and created the tipping point for us. More people than ever are aware of the value of user-centered design, and some have even made it to the corporate C-level. There’s more user research happening than ever before, and the whole Lean Startup movement is profoundly user-centric.

It may feel like we’re succeeding. But are we, really?

While he was updating Don’t Make Me Think, Steve had occasion to look around and ponder how things are going out there, usability-wise, and ended up thinking that things may not be going as well as we might think—or hope.

In this interactive session, he discusses things like:

· Mobile “standards”: Why does it feel eerily like 1999 again, in the wild and wooly days before Web Standards?

· Flat design: A really good thing, or the devil’s handiwork?

· Responsive design: Have we considered the possibility that it’s just creating sites that are equally unusable on any size screen?

· Touch screens and glasses and watches! Oh, my. Are we really ready for whole new interface design challenges?

Is Usability Taking a Nose Dive?

  1. 1. NELAUX, Pasadena June 20, 2014 Is Usability Taking a Nose Dive?
  2. 2. Awareness
  3. 3. Sorry  I know what my slides should be like  I’m just not that guy  The big, evocative photos guy  And I’m not even sorry I’m not that guy  Bullets it is  and a template straight out of Office 2004  But you can read it from the back of the room, right? © 2001 Steve Krug
  4. 4. The premise  On the one hand, it seems like usability is in better shape than ever © 2001 Steve Krug
  5. 5. After years of crying in the desert…  …suddenly we’re pop- ♫ u- ♫ lar ♫  Or at least it seems like we are  Thank Steve for it  Or maybe Steve and Jony  He/they convinced people that usability was a crucial part of his/their enormously successful secret sauce  They did the big case study for “you can make money by making things that people can use” © 2001 Steve Krug
  6. 6. Mostly good news  Granted, usability is now a wholly owned subsidiary of its newfound big cousin, User Experience Design (UXD)  But there’s more awareness than ever of the whole idea of creating things people can actually use © 2001 Steve Krug
  7. 7. But  Some people heard it as “you can make money by making things that people really enjoy using”  Some heard it as “…by creating delightful experiences”  So for some people usability now equals “delightful experience”  …which can easily translate to “beautiful, novel, and cool stuff” © 2001 Steve Krug
  8. 8. Usabilitycirca 2001  Useful: Does it do something people need done?  Learnable: Can people figure out how to use it?  Memorable: Do they have to relearn it each time they use it?  Efficient: Does it do it with a reasonable amount of time and effort?  and maybe even:  Effective: Does it get the job done? © 2001 Steve Krug
  9. 9. New, improved usability  Now includes:  Desirable: Do people want it?  Delightful: Is using it enjoyable, or even fun? © 2001 Steve Krug
  10. 10. My [relatively unchanged] definition  Something is usable if  A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience  can figure out how to use the thing  to accomplish some desired goal  without it being more trouble than it’s worth. © 2001 Steve Krug
  11. 11. Travel with me back in time  Well, OK, only about a year  I was working on the new edition of Don’t Make Me Think  Felt the need to “get out of the building”  Made an effort to go beyond my usual routines  Looked at a lot of sites  Suddenly had that “I think we’re not in Kansas anymore” feeling © 2001 Steve Krug
  12. 12. Some things looked the same as ever  Or better than ever  A feeling of maturity © 2001 Steve Krug
  13. 13. © 2001 Steve Krug
  14. 14. © 2001 Steve Krug
  15. 15. On the other hand  Many looked like mobile sites that had been fed growth hormones  Had the feeling you could read them from outer space © 2001 Steve Krug
  16. 16. © 2001 Steve Krug
  17. 17. © 2001 Steve Krug
  18. 18. © 2001 Steve Krug
  19. 19. Mobile to desktop creep?  Everything centered  Lots of uninformative graphics  Very little info on the screen at one time  Loss of visual hierarchy  Everything on one page © 2001 Steve Krug
  20. 20. Flat design  Don’t get me started © 2001 Steve Krug
  21. 21. © 2001 Steve Krug
  22. 22. Show of hands  Flat design:  A passing trend  A great leap forward  The devil’s handiwork © 2001 Steve Krug
  23. 23. Granted, this was never a good idea © 2001 Steve Krug
  24. 24. So what bothers me about Flat?  Duck-and-cover threat of skeuomorphism  There were really only a few egregious examples  And they never really hurt anybody  I thought we’d won the cool vs. usable battle  People finally understood that it can be as cool as you want, as long as it works, too  I hadn’t had that argument in years © 2001 Steve Krug
  25. 25. Don’t get me wrong  I am not a luddite  In fact, I’m a hopeless early adopter  I’m ecstatic that my Surface Pro 3 arrived today in Boston  Almost all of my PCs for the last 15 years have been tablets  Only problem was the 45-minute battery life, two inch thickness, and 4 pound heft © 2001 Steve Krug
  26. 26. Don’t get me wrong  I bought iPad the day it came out  I try so many apps that I can’t do “Update All” © 2001 Steve Krug
  27. 27. We’re making more ambitious things  Technology is allowing things to do a lot more  Accelerometers the size of a grain of sand that cost pennies to make  GPS satellites  Gorilla Glass®™  The Cloud © 2001 Steve Krug
  28. 28. It’s moving awfully fast  Developing UX for a new technology takes time  A shift as rapid as desktop > mobile requires some catching up  New devices may come faster than new usable interface ideas © 2001 Steve Krug
  29. 29. © 2001 Steve Krug Source: LukeW (google: “First Person User Interfaces”)
  30. 30. I’m worried about the little guy  Greater demands  Things have to be cooler  Things have to be more functional  Things have to be multi-platform  Vague emerging standards  Too much to learn © 2001 Steve Krug
  31. 31. Developers are the new MDs  There’s so much more to know  It’s hard to keep up  Show of hands: Do you ever feel like there’s just too much to know? © 2001 Steve Krug
  32. 32. Developers are the new MDs  “Faking cultural literacy”  Karl Taro Greenfeld, New York Times, 5/24/14  “It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything.”  “What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate.”  “What matters to us…is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it.” © 2001 Steve Krug
  33. 33. © 2001 Steve Krug
  34. 34. © 2001 Steve Krug Replacing “progress” with “innovation” skirts the question of whether a novelty is an improvement: the world may not be getting better and better but our devices are getting newer and newer. From “The Disruption Machine: What the gospel of innovation gets wrong” by Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, 6/23/14
  35. 35. © 2001 Steve Krug Photo © Jeff Jeffords
  36. 36. © 2001 Steve Krug Thanks for all the fish  Send any questions, feedback, gripes to 
  37. 37. © 2014 Steve Krug