Live from HighEdWebDev 2005 in Rochester: Steve Krug’s good tips on website usability in colleges and universities

November 8th, 2005 Karine Joly 2 Comments

As announced in July, Steve Krug, the author of “Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability,” gave the keynote presentation of HighWebDev05 in Rochester yesterday: “Why it S*cks to Be You.”

Brian Phelps, Web manager at the University of the Pacific but also the expert behind PhelpsTeKnowledge has accepted to share his well-taken notes with all of us who couldn’t make it to the conference this year (or the attendees who didn’t feel like taking notes ;-)

What’s usability?

“If something is hard, I just don’t use it as much!”

  • If you have room for only one usability rule: Don’t make me think.
  • Everything should be self-evident as possible.
  • Clarity trumps everything
  • Navigation needs to tell you where you are.
  • Avoid lots of faces and fonts, and be consistent with what you use.
  • There is a huge disparity between when we think people are doing on our web site and what really do.
  • We like to think their use of our site is orderly, but people are all over the map
  • Omit needless words

Krugs 3rd law of usability from his book
Delete half the words, and then delete ½ of what’s left.

Instructions must die

If it’s obvious, then it doesn’t need to be said.

For example,

“Complete the fields in the form below and click submit.”

Introductions must die

No one reads long blocks of introductory text

For example,

“The Graduate School is located in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies (RGS), 214 Knoles Hall on the beautiful Stockton campus, close to the landmark Burns Tower on Pacific Avenue .
The RGS office is responsible for the administration of graduate degree programs leading to master’s (M.M., M.Ed., M.A., MBA and M.S.), educational specialist in school psychology (Ed.S.), and doctoral (D.P.T., Ed.D. and Ph.D.) degrees in over 15 departments in 5 schools and colleges.
The RGS office is the place where the admissions, student records, degree audits, and final checkout for all graduate degrees on the Stockton campus occur, regardless of academic discipline.”

If it’s absolutely necessary, cut introductory text down to one sentence and place immediately in front of related links to related content. Then maybe your audience will read it.

Happy Talk must die

  • Throat clearing text
  • Mission statements
  • A sure fire indicator of Happy Talk: the voice in the back of your head saying, “blah blah blah”

Make text easily scannable

Top 9 reasons why it s*cks to be you

  1. Corporate expectations in a non-profit budget
  2. Stakeholder who can be petty and whiney in ways that wouldn’t dare in the ral world
  3. Find and implement a CMS in your spare time, and herd kittens into using it
  4. Sub-site/Fiefdom hell: “We want our dept/school/project to have its own character”
  5. Multiple audiences: faculty/staff/students/alumni/media/community/etc
  6. Home page death match: everyone wants a piece of the home page pie
  7. Deans less likely to force everyone to toe to the site-consistency line than CEOs
  8. Tons of dynamic content of variable quality and enormous importance (but only to its creators)
  9. Cool-factor: The arms race to stay competitive with your peers and deploy the latest gadgetry or fad (blogs, etc.)

Get navigation down cold

  • Still a major problem
  • In a large information space, it’s crucial that people always know where they are
  • Impeccable navigation
    • Easy to spot
    • Make navigation approachable (use short lists < 7 items)
    • Break up longer lists with white space or headings
    • Clear up ambiguous menu items
    • Consistent across sub-sites
  • Unsubtle you-are-here indicators
  • Big page titles that match link text
  • Breadcrumbs OK, but not a necessity unless site more than 3 levels deep

Tell me who you are

  • Tell me in 20 words or less why this is a great place to go to school on the home page
  • Unique selling proposition
  • Where are you?
  • Tagline and welcome blurb

What’s the Solution?
Simple, iterative user testing

The problem with usability testing

  • People do every little testing because they think it’s a big deal
    • 8 users
    • Two-way mirrors
    • Video
    • Big honking report
    • $5-10,000
  • If they do it all, they save it for the end
    • Because they only afford it once

Instead, do lost-our-lease usability testing

  • No labs or mirrors
  • Laptop, $10 to buy some students whatever they are drinking, and one morning a month in the student café.
  • Recruit three or four users.
  • No elaborate recruiting (not all that important). Don’t worry about getting representatives from real-world user audience. Just get a body.
  • No stats, no exit questions, no faux validity
  • Get as many team members and stakeholders to watch as possible
  • Iterative, over several months

Camtasia ($300) or Morae (TechSmith $1200) records what’s going on the screen, good for usability testing. Uses USB microphone, creates AVI audio and video.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you! I really wanted to go this year, esp. to hear Krug, but it wasn’t anywhere near in our budget. Just having these notes, though, will be incredibly helpful.

  2. Karine says:

    Thanks for your nice comment, Elaine!

    I couldn’t go either because of another engagement. Brian has done an amazing job covering the conference, stay tuned as I will be posting more of his notes about a few other sessions later today.

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