January 23, 2006

Exclusive: Web Design God Steve Krug (Audio MP3 + Transcript)

SUMMARY: Steve Krug is a genuinely humble guy - so he will be fairly embarrassed when he sees we called him a 'design god' in the headline above. But, we had no choice. Steve's the expert we admire more than any other Web designer on the planet today. In honor of the newly released 2nd edition of his 100,000 copy bestseller, 'Don't Make Me Think,' Steve graciously allowed MarketingSherpa's Publisher Anne Holland and Internet Director Scott McDaniel to grill him for an hour on what works (and what doesn't.) Here's an audio MP3 for you to listen to plus atyped transcript if you prefer reading:
When you get a celebrity such as Steve Krug, author 'Don't Make Me Think' on the phone for an exclusive interview, you don't want to cut a word. So, we didn't. 

Here you can share the experience of chatting with Steve with us. Includes all the questions we asked him on your behalf, such as:

- What are the most frequent dumb-CEO Web design ideas marketers are frustrated by?

- What typeface works best for Web now?

- How does search marketing affect good Web design, especially because fewer people go to your Home page first?

- Can Flash intros and rich media such as videos work in Web design?

- Any best practices for designing online registration forms so more people will fill them out?

Discover Steve's answers to these and more below:

Option #1.Audio

Here's your link to the audio interview -- 5.6mg file: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/tele/SteveKrugInterview.mp3

Audio download note: This is in MP3, which almost anyone with a PC or Mac can play. If you'd like to listen now, just do a regular mouse click (left side) and it will start playing fairly quickly. If you'd like to download and save to listen later, just do a right-click with your mouse.

Note: Want a copy of Steve's 2nd edition? We ship in 24 hours. You can learn more and/or order here: http://www.sherpastore.com/dont-make-me-think.html

Option #2. Text

If you prefer reading, here's the transcript:

AH: Hey Steve. It's a pleasure to have you with us today. I'm Anne Holland. I'm the publisher over here at MarketingSherpa and with me is our Director of Internet, Scott McDaniel.

This is actually the first interview I've ever done that we had one of the Internet guys in on but he said, “If you're talking to Steve, I've gotta be in on it.”

SM: Absolutely. I'm a big fan.

SK: Oh, thank you.

SM: Hi Steve. So, here's something I've been dying to ask you. I know you give these workshops, you go around the country, and you often have people come up to you and ask you questions about how to deal with tricky design issues or conflicts with their bosses or their director above them. And this is something that we deal with here, too, at Sherpa and I'm just curious what tips do you have for people in how to resolve these sorts of usability/design/marketing conflicts.

SK: Yeah. I fall back on one thing which I have since the book came out. I think the thing that settles these arguments is getting everybody to watch somebody try and use the darn thing. It turns out to be my solution for almost everything. I have watched enough people in the observation rooms at user tests to come to the conclusion that it's a kinda transforming experience and that it takes it out of the realm of, “It's my opinion versus your opinion.”

AH: One thing that I like about your book is that you do explain in layman language very clearly how to run your own little in-house usability lab for real cheap which is nice. So I highly recommend people to do that.

When people have been fighting with their boss over a design issue, though, is there any sort of top two design issues that seem to be the big fight with the boss that you come over time and time again?

SK: Well, I wanna give Scott a chance for a follow-up question.


SM: __________. That was my follow-up.

SK: OK. One of the chapters I added to the second edition was sort of intended to be along those lines which is the one called, “Help! My boss wants me to _(blank)_,” because, partly, it's addressing the fact that people would often, at workshops or when I'm giving a talk, they'll say, “My boss wants me to put a Flash page on the site,” or, “He wants some huge animation on the homepage,” or “wants us to put in lots of big graphics that'll actually squeeze the content off of the homepage,” or any of those kinds of design horrors from the designer's point of view. So I had started to get to the point where, when people would say that, I'd say, “Alright. Give me his e-mail address and I'll send him an e-mail basically telling him he's a jerk.”


AH: You could charge for that.

SK: An expert jerk. So I actually made up two of those form letters and put them in the book and, in fact, one of the things that I like to do is to get around to do is to actually put like a CGI or something on my site so people could just plug in their name and their boss's e-mail address and it'll send –

SM: Oh, that'd be great. (Laughter)

AH: Yeah, I guess I'm gonna get one of those soon, huh?


SM: I'll help you build that, Steve.

SK: Thank you. I would appreciate it. I need all the help I can get. I'm like a one-person operation here so people sometimes look at my site and say, “Oh, I noticed” – they're very sweet about it and apologetic and say, “I noticed this one thing you might wanna fix,” and I just have to write back and say, “Boy, thank you. I'm glad you didn't come across the real stuff that needs” – (Laughter)

AH: Well, I think everybody who is especially agency side or consultancy side knows that shoemaker's-children problem.

SK: Exactly.

AH: Well, our second question is one that came up at our latest summit a couple of times and it may seem like a little question but everybody wanted to know the answer. There was fierce interest in this and it was, when you're laying out copy on the page, should it be ragged right or justified right? Some people say, “Well, ragged right” – “newspapers do justified right so it should be that way but, ragged right, there's holes.” What should it be?

SK: I'm sort of adamant about the fact that there aren't very many rules about any of this stuff. There are probably a couple of absolutes but not very many. So, I hate to get into them when they're – I actually didn't know people were still arguing about that.

AH: Oh yeah.

SK: Wow. So there must be a lot of us coming from print backgrounds, then, huh?

AH: Well, I think a lot of the especially marketers with some 15-20 years of experience originally started in print, yeah.

SK: Yeah. Generally speaking, ragged right is more readable in a minor way and I think when you get into – justified makes sense in print for appearances sake but everybody who does justified knows that you're then forced into hyphenation or you've got rivers running through the text or that –

AH: Yeah. How about text point size? How small can it be? People also argue about that. The web designers often are the ones putting it down to 9-point Verdana.

SK: Yeah. Well, for one thing, I finally reached the point about a year ago where I realized that it has to be resizable for general accessibility reasons but also just because, no matter who you are, a certain percentage of your audience is gonna be over 45 and they're not gonna be able to read it very well.

SM: Do you find in your usability tests that average users – I know there isn't such a thing – but that they know how to resize their text?

SK: No but, more and more, they will. Over the next year or two it's gonna become the same way – I'm trying to think of another piece of functionality that sort of becomes more visible where everybody just kinda gets it now. But I think that's the next piece of functionality that more and more users are gonna catch on to, particularly people who wear glasses and could use something a little larger.

AH: Is there any site that has a nice resizability kind of icon or little explanatory graphic that you like the best?

SK: I don't have an example off the top of my head. There are a bunch of them that will have up near the top, they'll have like three different size letter As and that seems reasonably compelling. It doesn't take too much space and is kind of engaging and intriguing enough that people will take a look at it and most people would get it right away.

SM: I've always worried that the people who need it the most would be the least likely to understand what it does. (Laughter)

SK: And it's probably true.

AH: But if everybody in the marketing profession called their parents and explained this and asked them to explain to their friends, we could virally get most of the American population in about a week.

SK: There you go or we could get Google to do some public service ads.


AH: Hopefully they're gonna hear this. Scott, you had a question about blogs.

SM: Yeah. With this huge explosion of blogs and so many of them fitting into, more or less, cookie cutter shapes, what are some of the big blog design common mistakes that you're seeing out there?

SK: I'm actually not seeing many because it's one of those cases where the software is – the needs of people blogging is so consistent. People don't wanna do all kinds of different things. There are kind of ten things that you wanna do if you're blogging and the people who develop the software have been flexible enough or responsive enough that the software seems to be doing a pretty good job of implementing the functionality that people wanna use. So honestly, I can't say that I've seen too much in blogs that – have you seen stuff that has bothered you?

AH: Sometimes endless category lists. You'll have 37 different categories and it's a little scary to navigate through.

SK: Yeah, that's true and –

AH: Oh, and then there's the panel gray typeface that everyone seems to use.

SM: Yeah and I also find that, if they're giving just excerpts on their front homepage, it's not always entirely obvious to the users what you click on to get in to actually read the full post.

SK: That's true. A lot of times the heading will be what's clickable and it's not particularly obvious that it's clickable. I kind of go for a heading and a “more” link at the end of the blurb. But actually, come to think of it, there's one thing that I run into a lot on blogs that bothers the heck out of me but I wouldn't extrapolate it to a general problem – personally, it bothers me – is I'll scroll down the blog and we all – again, they're pretty consistent. You go backwards in time as you scroll down. So, then it gets to the bottom of the first page of their blog and there's no link there to take me back in time. I have to then go up the page and look around and find where their archives is and then I have to kinda figure out, “Well, is what I just looked at, was that all of December '05 or was that some December '05 and some of November?” Where do I wanna go and where do I need to go in the archives? _____ when there isn't something at the bottom of the page that just takes you back to the next earlier posting.

AH: That's a really, really good point. I just came across that yesterday.

SM: Note to self...

AH: Now, a lot of our readers are business-to-business marketers and another big segment are online publishers. And both of those populations of marketers and web designers do a lot of online forms. They'll put a form in front of some content. They'll say, “Hey. If you wanna get this white paper, fill out this registration form,” or, “If you wanna read the article, fill out the form.” And they're having at least, on average, 95 percent abandon rate at that form page. Is there anything that you think people can do in terms of form usability; making the form, I don't know, look a little nicer, less scary, that would help stop that abandonment rate?

SK: Well, first you gotta say, “What does that abandonment rate mean? Does that mean” – you can't make the assumption of 100 percent of the people who got to that page had any intention of filling out that form. Maybe they went to that page looking for a little more information about what was gonna be in the newsletter when they registered for it or the details of this offer and they either found the information on that page and it wasn't what they wanted so they abandoned it, or they didn't find the information on that page and so they abandoned it.

Actually, one of the problems, in that context, that people do a lot, I think, is not to give you – for instance, you're trying to get somebody to register for a newsletter. You gotta have a link there that takes them to a sample newsletter. Whether it's the most recent one or just a sample depends on what you are in a position to give away or whatever. But people often set it up so they come and register for our newsletter and then it takes you to the form but you haven't seen the darn thing. So, it's kind of the same way when people are checking out: they wanna know about shipping prices and delivery times. If they're registering for something like a newsletter, they would really like to see a sample of what they're gonna get so they can make a decision whether it's worth it to them or not.

AH: Mmhmm. Do you have any other tips on just the actual design of the form itself? I know in your book you have your famous cartoon about drop-downs.

SK: Yeah. Well, it's not design per se and, again, actually, this was the second of the two “Help! My boss wants me to _(blank)_” letters was “My boss wants me to ask people for too much personal data before we'll give them something.” The form should ask for as little as possible. It shouldn't ask for anything that you don't need to deliver what I'm asking for. So, if I'm asking to subscribe to an e-mail newsletter, you need my e-mail address. And don't try and pump me for additional data at that point. Create the relationship with me first, send me the newsletter, then, in the course of the newsletter, have offers or whatever that you can use to pump me for additional data.

People take a glance at the form and they come make this quick assessment of both “how long is it gonna take for me to fill this out and is it worth it” and it's less worth it if I haven't seen a sample of the thing or I don't know exactly what I'm getting or still have questions about it. But it's also less worth it if you're asking me for one more iota of data than I think you need to meet this request. Like I said, I think you could see a big drop in conversions as soon as you start asking for more information.

You also diminish people's trust in you; things like, “Why are you asking for this information?” The simplest interpretation is you're gonna do something with it so you are then, instantly, identified that you're not acting in my interest. That's likely to get me to leave.

AH: One thing that we've noticed – we do case studies every week on what works, especially in landing-page design. Somebody makes an offer online and you click to the landing page and decide whether you're gonna buy it or click through or whatever. And we've done a lot of studies on AB tests of these things and it seems like, aside from the headline, the number two most test-worthy item on the landing page is always the button; the thing the person has to click on to either accept the offer or submit the form or go to the cart or whatever. Do you have any tips on button designers? I think we find that, often, the button is kind of neglected in terms of design. They kinda slam a button on there and don't really think about it and, when they test it, it really can make a difference in conversions. Do you have any button expertise?

SK: Right. Yeah, the button's certainly a good place to focus energy. A couple of things come to mind. One is that I see the button right away. I know where it is that I need to act on this thing. The example I use when I'm teaching workshops is actually if you go to Amazon's checkout page. You could put the page up on the wall and walk across the room and you would be able to see the two buttons that they want you to click on on that page. They absolutely pop out at you. In fact, if you go to an Amazon book page – I've got one open in front of me right now – and the “Add to Shopping Cart” button is – I probably could walk back across the room and I could tell you where the shopping cart button is.

So, if you get to a page like that where there is some button for an action item then you wanna make sure it's prominent enough and then you wanna watch a couple people try to use it because you can often be wrong; things that you think are terribly prominent. One of the main reasons for doing that kind of user testing is for things that you think are unbelievably _____, you'll then test and you'll find that two out of four people won't notice them for reasons that escape a good scanning. But you gotta go back and beef it up somehow.

The other thing, obviously, is the wording of that kinda button. _____ really do wanna be careful about the wording and it's kind of non-trivial.

AH: When you say the wording, you mean saying something besides “submit” or using the word “submit” or –

SK: Yeah. No. Is it just “submit” or is it do you wanna specifically have it say what the action is that they're taking? It kinda depends on the form but it may help to have the wording __________-specific.

AH: Yeah. Actually, the test data we've seen says that if you can use a word that was in the headline, it helps.

SK: Yeah, that wouldn't surprise me.

AH: Well, you had said, and I love this, at the start of this interview you said that Flash intros and a lot of rich-media things are what you call design horror.


I actually know a lot of people, especially at big, traditional ad agencies, are still fighting the Flash intro battle ten years later, now. What's your advice to them?

SK: Yeah. Well, I'm surprised and that's why I say people do stand up at the workshops and say, “You gotta help me. My boss, they're just dead set on doing this.” And I'm surprised. I'm honestly surprised because so much of it has gone away but you do still see it. I actually didn't get to write this in the book but I have been thinking a lot about why – it tends to be kind of a CEO syndrome. CEOs are the ones who want the Flash pages and the Flash intros and the whatever. And I actually would love to write something about this cause it's because of their role in the design.

The CEO – their job is that vision thing so they're gonna be shown _____ of stuff that people have been working on and they're gonna look at it and they're gonna say, “Well, my job here is to make sure that it has that vision thing,” and they kind of “put my stamp on it.” And things like a Flash page or that kind of thing fits in with that picture of the big vision, I think. And they never get anywhere near the fact that people are gonna come here, they're gonna be looking for information in an incredible rush, they probably have in mind what they're looking for to some extent already, and you really just kinda have to give them what they need and stay out of their way as much as possible. That's very much in conflict with the vision thing.

AH: Well, how do you present to your CEO in such a way that they don't invent a Flash intro for you to slam in front of your site?

SK: Well, they do sometimes. I think sometimes people will drag in – honestly, my book's been pretty good for that. I gotta say it's gratifying: one of things that people do is they throw my book at CEOs.


SM: It's really not quite heavy enough, though, I don't think.

AH: It is paperback so there wouldn't be significant skin damage.


SK: And a bunch of them read it. That seems to be the best use that it's been put to. I get all this e-mail from people saying, “I gave your book to my boss and he finally understands what I've been trying to explain all this time.” The traditional approach is they hire an expert to come in and sit down and talk to the CEO and whatever but I'm not even sure that works that well.

I tell people, try and trick the CEO into watching some user tests or, nowadays, actually, with the Camtasia and Moray and stuff like that, you can – years ago I used to tell people, “Don't videotape user tests because you're not gonna spend the time creating a highlights reel to give to the CEO cause it's way too much trouble.” But with stuff like Camtasia and Moray, you actually can. Now that video is not on a videotape anymore, you can pretty quickly create a little highlights reel and send a link to a two-minute clip to the CEO. And people get intrigued by it cause you can just have the clip sitting on a server now. When it was you gotta get somebody to put a tape in a VCR then it would never happen. But people kinda like looking at clips and stuff that are – so, try and trick them into watching some actual users.

AH: In your book, you have a big section that really deals with homepages and the horrors that are homepages cause they're so incredibly difficult and there's so many political battles fought over them. But the fact of the matter is that, since so much traffic these days is coming from search engines and even blogs and RSS feeds and newsletters and it's all being deep linked in, as USA Today told me and many, many other sites have told me, the vast majority of their users are no longer coming to the homepage. The homepage is just another page. What do you do in terms of design and navigation when even the most tiniest, little, furthest-down pages are now an ipso facto homepage?

SK: Well, my biggest reaction to that is that it's not entirely true. It's true that's what's happening but it doesn't make the homepage less important. It doesn't make the actual homepage less important because, if you do any kind of user tests and watch people actually use stuff, and even my own behavior and watching some friends' behavior, I do everything through Google. There is nothing that I do related to my computer that doesn't start through a Google search, practically.

AH: OK. Somebody at Yahoo is just gnawing on their fingernails right now.


SK: Yeah. Sorry. It's just the way it is. (Laughter) Some of my best friends work at Yahoo _____. (Laughter)

Google's like Amazon: it was the first one that just really worked that well. So yeah, I find everything by deep linking, too, but what you see if you actually watch people is, what happens is they follow the search engine link and they deep link into the site but they've created this new, very frequent behavior which is they deep link into the site, it's not quite what they're looking for, but they're either curious about what else is on this site or they think what they're looking for may be on this site but someplace else. And what they'll do is they'll look around for the home link and pop up to the surface to get their bearings to try and figure out what this site is about. So that makes it even more – and it does. It happens an awful lot.

SM: Sorta like raising to periscope depth.

SK: That's exactly what it's like. (Laughter) I like that. That's good. I've been referring to it as bobbing up to the surface put periscope depth is probably perfect cause you're looking around and you're trying to get your bearings and figure out where you are. So that makes it even more crucial that, if I go to a site that I didn't go to – ordinarily, homepages work under the assumption that I got to the homepage cause I went to go to that site so I sort of knew what I was getting into in some sense. But even at that, it was crucial that the site make it evident what's there. So the homepage makes it evident what's there.

Now it's even more crucial because I deep linked into this site. I don't recognize the name of it. The name may be cryptic. I don't really know what this is or if it's really relevant to me but I will pop up, up periscope, and look around to try and figure out in five seconds or less what this site is, who's publishing it, whether they're credible or not, what other kinds of content they have that's relevant to what brought me here in the first place, and then I also wanna find the navigation so that I can drill back down to the area that might be relevant to me. So, I don't think homepages have – I think they still have to do exactly the same things they were doing and I think it's as important as it was before that they do it.

But there was something in your question that suggested something else, too. I'm trying to think – you were saying that – oh. You referred to it as that the deep-link page became a de facto homepage.

AH: To some degree I wonder whether it has. I wonder whether your logo just needs to be bigger or your subline needs to – I don't know.

SK: Well, your logo always – any page that I'm on in your site always needed to have your logo at the top left and a tag line or something else to make it clear to me, if your logo doesn't, what this site is. I should go to any page on the web and I should know where I am; I should know what site I'm in. I should also be able to click on that ID and get back up to the top. But I also should have local navigation because if I deep link into a page, if that's not exactly the page that I'm looking for, odds are reasonably high that I may want to poke around some of the other pages that are in that same area on your site. So it should be pretty clear to me from the local navigation how I move sideways at that level.

AH: So, if I'm looking at my web logs or my we analytics system and I'm seeing a lot of people who enter on deep pages are going to the homepage, I should maybe be saying, “Wait a minute. I need to add more local navigation on those deeper pages.”

SK: Well, not necessarily. Again, that's where I see it's really hard to do that kind of mind reading from the logs because that might just indicate the phenomenon I was describing where you get there, “This isn't exactly what I'm looking for but I'm willing to take a chance to at least spend a couple of seconds figuring out what this site is and see if these guys actually might have that information someplace else.” That might just cause me to pop up to the surface.

But the other thing that I might do is I might just say, “Well, this is almost what I'm looking for. Let me see what other products they have in this category. So if they have this then there's a reasonable probability that they actually have what I'm looking for. Let me just pop up one level to the category that this thing is in and look around”; or, “If this article is related, let me pop up to the list that this article is listed in and __________ the article I'm actually looking for is there.”

SM: Steve, speaking of web logs and web analytics, are there any in particular that you can use to grade or improve your site's overall usability?

SK: I haven't done enough with analytics. I've read a lot but I've never really done enough with them to have a sense of what's most useful with one exception which is that I always tell people you really wanna look at your search logs. The search logs are enormously valuable and mostly neglected. So, people should look at their search logs. I tell them you should have a routine where, once a month, you look at the search logs and you look at the top five or ten things in the search logs and execute that search yourself and see what you get in the search engine. You can usually figure out what people are looking for from those top five or ten searches.

You wanna make sure that when you execute that search, the first search that shows up in the search results is the best page that you have that meets that query. And if you have to rig the results, if you have to hard-code your search results or add keywords to the page or whatever then you should do it so that, when people execute those searches, they're guaranteed to get the information they were likely looking for. But you should also, then, look at those five search queries and say, “Well, why do people search for this? Should they have been able to find it by looking at some link on the homepage? Is it important enough that we actually need to have a link on the homepage that would take people to this information and that would also then show up hopefully in Google searches?”

And you do it once a month. So next month you'll probably have some of the same queries and some different ones.

SM: I've got my question about text links, too, for Steve now, if that –

AH: Oh, yeah.

SM: So, I'm really curious. In your book you've said things like take half the words out of a page and then take half out of what's left. But we've also got data that suggests pretty strongly that longer pages sell better especially if you're trying to actually sell a product. So, have you been in this problem before? How do you balance the usability, clear and concise text versus this data that says that people seem to buy more when they're reading a longer page?

SK: But my question would be, what does the longer page mean? See, you're comparing – that stat says we've compared some long pages to some short pages and why is it that the long pages are succeeding better. Is it because the short pages didn't actually have the information that people were looking for? Don't think it's just because they're long per se. There's nothing wrong with – it more so raises the question of, if you got pages, should we break them up into multiple pages with their own hierarchy just to keep them short. And I agree with that. I think long pages can be very useful. People actually will scroll down a long page as long as it's full of the kind of information that they're looking for.

So, what you're trying to get rid of is all the language that isn't adding any information which is so much. That's where the long __________ getting rid of but I could have a product spec page that's ten screen-fulls long and that's fine as long as it's ten screens full of product specs and it's not marketing fluff that's keeping me from finding the product specs that I'm looking for.

SM: I know you're a big fan of Amazon and I also know they do tons and tons of testing and constant reworking of their site but I begin to look at their pages now and, lately, they're getting full of so many other features: citations __________, “Other customers also read...” and tagging and it just goes on and on and on and on and on. It's getting harder to find the things that I really want to find on there like I'm interested in the reviews more than anything.

AH: Yeah. I'll actually find myself scrolling up and down saying, “Where are the darn reviews?”

SK: I know. Hey, I own a tiny bit of Amazon stocks that I lost money on years ago. I think I probably bought it at its record high which is –


That's my method for buying stocks is I try and find the record high and buying it.


AH: Google's is coming soon.

SK: Yeah, exactly.


They're gonna let them go into like 2,000 or something. I have no control over Amazon and I agree. I think their –

SM: Oh, I just wanted to get your thoughts. That's all. I –

SK: I do find it disturbing that there's so much stuff although they still do a pretty good job of chunking it. But I have the same __________ where I find that I'm kind of overwhelmed even on a book page which wouldn't seem to be a great thing. On the other hand, there's a part of me that says, well, of anybody I know out there, I know Amazon has been doing live AB tests of this stuff _____ everything they're adding and it's making them money. But that's only because I know that they're one of the few people who do put the effort and the money into constantly doing live AB tests as they're tinkering with this stuff which most people don't have the luxury of doing.

Do you think that's turning around? Do you think that AB testing is gonna become more economically feasible for people?

AH: Yeah, we're seeing a lot of companies doing AB testing. We're seeing a lot of people also doing their own little in-house usability kind of once-a-month things. But what I've found is, often, it doesn't seem to depend on how big the company is or how much money they have. It seems to be a company culture: eDiets, Cars.com, Classmates, Newegg is a few of these companies where they just test the living daylights out of stuff and that's just their corporate culture. And it comes from top, down and from bottom, up.

SK: Are most of them rigging it up themselves?

AH: Yeah, a lot of them are rigging it up themselves.

SK: That's been my experience is the people who do it are the ones who really are committed to it and they've got somebody technically inside who's taken the trouble to –

AH: Right. Motley Fool tests the living daylights out of stuff. The thing that I have seen now is that they're beginning to slowly outsource it.

SK: Right and that's why I was asking cause I figured you would know. I've started to see people cropping up, third parties, who will set that stuff up and I wondered if they've gotten to be any good.

AH: Yeah, quite a few have and the nice thing is that there are also some pretty good third-party, multi-variate testers coming along now, too. A lot of the reason why some of these people have to have a good solution for fairly inexpensively is because a lot of marketers will do what they call a black ops operation. In other words, they got a undercover AB test. They don't wanna do it on their own server because they can't convince the boss to give them a budget for this thing but they believe in it so they do a little black ops operation. And then they come running back and they say, “Look. I did this operation. Please don't hate me. And here's some results,” and they're hoping they kinda blow the CEO or whoever away and actually get a real budget. And it seems to work very well.

SK: Yeah? Well, that's encouraging.

AH: So we are gonna be doing, actually, a buyer's guide on all these different companies and I'll send you a copy when it comes out.

SK: Oh, OK. Great. Yeah, I'd be curious because it's in the same category as I used to tell people not to do the videotaping in the sessions because it was too much trouble. The same thing with AB: it's fabulous if you can do it but, unless there's third parties you can just kinda throw money at then, for most people, it is too much trouble.

AH: No, there are some good ones coming up right now and we'll send you a list of them. Now Scott, I know you had a question about some of the more advanced sites that are out there these days.

SM: I was really curious to get your feeling on some of these new sites sometimes being called Web 2.0 or they're using these new things called AJAX with a lot of fancy DHTML features: in-line editing and draggable features in their UIs. I'm thinking of companies like Flicker and Google Maps and there's just a whole plethora of them now. What do you have to say about the usability of some of these new features and the outlook for them?

SK: Yeah, I haven't spent a lot of time yet going out and pounding on the stuff that's out there. My general impression is that it's mostly sort of web apps basically. They may not feel like full-blown applications but they're more like an application than they are a page. And they seem to be doing a pretty nice job and I'm told that the AJAX stuff, there are accessibility solutions for implementing AJAX stuff and still having it be accessible. So, it feels more to me like they're heading in the direction of adding useful functionality than just coming up with stuff that's flashy so that's encouraging.

SM: Yeah, I think their features are fantastic but I've sat down with people like my mother who, not the ultimate web guru, and she had no idea that the Google Map was draggable. It's those sorts of features that don't seem to be readily obvious to the non-techies. SK: Yeah. Well, drag and drop, you hit right off of v1 cause drag and drop, historically, going back to regular applications, has just been notoriously hard to convey. People have come up with some reasonable solutions: little prompts that show up at the beginning and then go away. But that's just one that's always been tricky. I don't know if the – what it comes down to is web application design.

Web application design, for several years from the time the book came out for another two years or so, I kept looking around for a book on web application – actually, from a couple years before the book came out – and there weren't any. And it was kinda like – what was that that somebody said – where are the baby pigeons? You never see baby pigeons. There were no web app books. But there are some now and I think web apps are kinda the next thing that are gonna mature as the –

AH: Do you have a favorite web app book cause maybe we should stick that in our store, too?

SK: Yeah, the – I'm blanking at – they're very nice people. It's in my recommended readings. It's Susan Fowler and Victor Stanwick. They're husband and wife from Staten Island. Web Application Design Handbook. I think that's about the best that's out there so far.

AH: OK. Well, we'll try to stick that in there. That'll be great.

SK: Yeah, I would expect they'll be some more out in the next year. There are a lot of – obviously there's a flurry of AJAX books coming out. I haven't looked at any of them and I don't know if they really talk about design principles at all or if they're just talking about implementation of AJAX.

AH: Alright. Well, I'm ready with the biggest question of the interview.

SK: Uh oh.

AH: Yeah. Well, I gotta ask the big one at the end because then people have to read all the way down to get to the one they're dying for. And that is – everyone asks me this – how the heck can you find and hire a web designer who “gets it”? It's there's a bazillion people out there who all claim to be web designers but you look at their portfolios and its not very usable stuff. How is a poor marketer supposed to go out there and figure out which web designer gets it and find them?

SK: See? Now you give me one that I don't have a good answer for and this is a big question and I don't have a good answer for it.


SM: He asked her if she had read the book, right?


AM: Yeah, what do you think of Steve Krug? That's it.


SK: Again, I was very gratified. I was talking to a designer a couple months ago and he said, “I got my job because of your book.” He walked into the interview and he saw the book sitting on the guy's shelf and he pointed it out and said, “Oh,” and so then they started talking about the book. And he said he was pretty sure that was part of the reason why he got the job.

People do write and ask me if I can recommend some web designers who get it and I can't really only cause I don't circulate enough. I don't have enough contact with that many designers. I know people who do large projects who I work with on projects who are really good.

AH: How about a couple of interview questions or maybe, if I was gonna post a job on like Monster board or one of those online career sites or even on Elance, often, what you can do is you can ask a question or two for them to answer along with sending in their resume. Is there a question or two that you would use to kinda winnow the big fish from the minnows or the decent designers from the not-so-decent?

SK: Boy, I haven't thought about that. You said that it was kinda hard to go on their portfolios. In a sense, I think you do have to kinda go on their portfolios even though the tricky part of it is that, until you talk to them and even then, sometimes, you can't tell whether they –

AH: Was it a brilliant client? Was it a stupid client? Yeah.

SK: Did they do all of it? Is it still in the shape that it was when they did it? Whatever. But I feel like that's where you gotta get your clues from.

SM: Right. Did they only code the About Us page or the whole thing?

SK: Yeah, exactly, and I think if I was doing it, if I was trying to find somebody, I would probably try and find a site or a couple of sites that were kind of in the price range that I'm looking for and find some that are just decent and then find out who they used.

SM: I've seen them using your book to teach in schools.

SK: Yeah, I'm surprised. There's actually a lot of college courses that have been using it.

SM: Well, Steve, we have hopes for the future.

SK: I was shocked. Well, yeah, I think that what's gonna happen is that, at some point in the next couple of years, it'll become kinda standard that, particularly in any interactive design but in most design curricula, they'll be one class in user-centered design. You'll have to take one class in user-centered design. And that's all it takes. An awful lot of designers have come a long way. I think you find a very high percentage of designers who really think about the user in ways that designers didn't 5-6 years ago and I think that's great. I think it's kinda the result of the web and people like Jakob Nielsen getting it out there.

So I'm pretty optimistic. I think most designers are much more user-centered than they were and I think you will reach a point in another couple of years where you really would rarely run into a designer who wouldn't have some reasonable sensitivity to usability.

AH: That's great.

SK: Just look at how much better stuff has gotten. I think stuff has gotten fabulously better since –

AH: Oh, compared to 1997? Yeah.

SK: Yeah and it's partly because there's good stuff to copy from and people have been smart enough to not be squeamish about copying. If you see somebody's done a good job on a checkout design then –

SM: Is that the good designers create; great designers steal?


SK: Exactly.

AH: That makes perfect sense. Well, thank you very much for your time today, Steve. I really appreciate it. I know Scott and I had a great time. You're a huge hero for both of us.

SK: Thank you.

Here's a picture of Steve:

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