Steve Krug is a well-known name in the digital field. An expert in usability, Steve does consulting, is the author of two widely successful books and has worked for brands like Apple, Bloomberg and Lexus, as well as the International Monetary Fund. Steve was kind enough to do a Skype interview with us where we caught up with him at his home in Massachusetts to discuss some usability challenges faced by many in the industry.
Hi Steve. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. We know when it comes to usability, you are one of the global leaders in this field. In your opinion, do you think usability is often sacrificed for design?
I think it used to be sacrificed a lot more. Ten years ago when my book came out, it was common to see sites where it was clear that effort had gone into design and they didn’t have a clue about usability. Nowadays, it is relatively infrequent to run into that. New designers maybe, but most people have been at it for a while. Usability is now seen as a priority. But there will always be clients that haven’t been exposed to enough usability or experience. I was involved in a discussion recently about ‘paralax navigation’ which is an advanced design where the background layer and forground layer operate independently, which shows that design is not necessarily sacrificed anymore.
Usability in mobile is often affected by handset types and the way web is displayed on mobile interfaces. What is the best way to overcome the challenges posed by this?
Well I usually don’t believe what industry pundits are saying because they say most people are on one form of mobile as opposed to desktops. Mobiles are more popular these days than desktops. The iPhone is great but I also sometimes wish it had more capabilities. It is great for consuming content but not necessarily good for creating content. But we are heading in that direction. In terms of the USA – development doesn’t change because you still design and test on each mobile interface, and that will tell you whether you are getting it right or not. The relationship between the scale down version versus the full version can be tough. But when you first start designing for a mobile app you have to figure out what really matters and then build that in. Then you can maybe add in more as you go up into the larger platforms. I haven’t had to face this problem personally. My website is simple and straight forward but I am considering whether it is suitable for mobile apps. I like zooming options, like on my iPhone, because there are things you can’t do on the mobile site that can only be done on the website. Sometimes when browsing on my iPhone, I choose to go to the full site version as opposed to the mobile site, as more can be done on the full site.
So how do you know when usability is the cause of poor conversions as opposed to other external factors? Especially when considering industry-specific conversion rates?
Our conversion rates are always much lower than we expect. Clients will always tell you that the rate should be higher than it is at! Nowadays I’m like the guy with the hammer – everything looks like a nail when it comes to issues in usability. If you’re setting up analytics to see what the cause of poor conversions are as well as do simple testing with a couple of people, and there is a major usability glitch, you’ll soon see what those evident problems are. Usually bad problems are not hidden. You just need an outsider’s view and it will smack you in the face and be hard to miss. People who never do usability testing suddenly see things that you didn’t, and will only pick up later.
Can you give an example of a site that does usability well?
Amazon does an excellent job trying to sell the whole world since they went beyond books. But what I take that they do really well is on the back end. Whether it is returning or changing a product, I can always quickly find the link and the process is easy. They do their own A/B testing. Now anyone can do it for free with google analytics.
What would be your one take-home tip when designing for the web?
My biggest tip is if you’re not testing start doing it. Grab people and watch them use your stuff. This is what my second book is about. Also, make sure from your home page that people actually get it. Who you are, what you do and what your unique value proposition is. That is the main reason why people leave the page. The things normally squeezed off the page are in fact most important and tell users what is so great about your place. And that immediate hit is the encouragement to keep reading. To the people who own the site it is obvious. They think everyone else knows why they are great. But that is not the truth.
Thank you for chatting with us Steve, it is a great honor to get some first-hand advice from you.