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Rocket Surgery Made Easy - Book Review

1 July 2012
Dr. Moria Levy

Steve Krug's "Rocket Surgery Made Easy" is the second installment in a series by the globally recognized expert in usability and user experience. The book is focused on a well-defined mission: instructing non-usability experts on conducting regular usability testing for the websites under their responsibility in organizational settings. While many recommendations apply to other systems, the book was intentionally crafted with a web-centric perspective. The author acknowledges that hiring a usability expert, if affordable, is preferable but emphasizes knowing how to conduct valuable tests when that's not possible independently.

The book covers the following topics:

  • Usability tests

  • Preparing for the tests

  • The test

  • Improvements following the tests.

Articulately written, pleasant, and easily digestible, the book is highly recommended for individuals overseeing internal or external sites/portals.

Usability tests

Usability tests involve observing individuals as they attempt to use a developed system, with the primary objectives being to:

  1. Facilitate users' interaction with the system.

  2. Verify that the developed system is sufficiently user-friendly.

The tests outlined below, labeled DIY tests without experts, are qualitative rather than quantitative

Individuals involved in planning, designing, or building websites often struggle to identify usability issues in their developed systems. This challenge arises from their familiarity with the system's contents and anticipated behaviors. Acknowledging that every system, particularly every website, inherently possesses usability problems is essential.

A notable point is that usability testing is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Given the constant evolution of website content, conducting usability tests regularly, ideally monthly, is advisable.

Test Framework:

  1. Goal: Identify a concise list of the most significant usability issues.

  2. Scope and frequency: Half a day, once a month.

  3. Timing in the development process: As early as possible, including examining wireframes and preliminary plans.

  4. Number of users for the test: 3.

  5. Subjects: Randomized individuals, representative to the extent possible.

  6. Location: At the company's offices, no dedicated laboratory is necessary.

  7. Observers: Managers, developers, and other site partners.

  8. Report: 1-2 concluding pages.

  9. Deciding factor: All observing partners.

  10. Costs: Approximately NIS 1,000 (including equipment, subject payments, and lunch for observers).

Preparing for the tests

Preliminary preparation for usability tests is a practical exercise. It is advisable to practice usability testing on the websites of competing companies. Accepting and objectively understanding the findings is more accessible before testing our site.

Essential preparations for a test meeting:

  1. Recruitment of three subjects: Internal or external candidates are suitable, as long as they are not affiliated with the development team. Prefer external candidates for external sites and internal candidates for internal sites. If necessary, consider recruiting capable candidates who cannot attend remote examinations (although less preferable). Avoid reusing the same candidates for retests. It is recommended to have an additional subject available for an immediate backup in case of a no-show.

  2. Definition of tasks under review: Prioritize critical tasks and those perceived as less straightforward. Seek feedback from partners (the site development team) regarding the tasks.

  3. Creation of specific scenarios for tasks: Ensure scenarios lack guiding clues and avoid using words that are also menu names on the site (deliberate). Conduct a personal preliminary pilot on the tasks according to the scenarios to confirm their accurate registration. Print out the scenarios for distribution to examinees and observers during the test.

  4. Logistical preparations: Coordinate and remind examinees and observers, arrange equipment, schedule conference rooms, plan for lunch, prepare the examination room (computer, screen, keyboard, mouse, microphone, speaker), and set up the observer room (computer, projector, speakers, telephone with backup speaker, and snacks). Bookmark the first few pages with a visible arrow mark for more straightforward navigation during the test.

Before each test:

  1. Clear browser history.

  2. Reopen.

At the end of each test:

  1. Stop recording and save it.

  2. Take notes.

The test

The event leader, who also serves as the facilitator, carries responsibility in the following areas:

  1. Providing clear instructions to subjects.

  2. Ensuring subjects' satisfaction and managing their stress levels throughout the process.

  3. Encouraging participants to vocalize their thoughts on-site navigation and express associated feelings.

The test is scheduled for one hour, with the following breakdown:

  • Four minutes: Opening and explaining the process (reading from the script is highly recommended to avoid omitting details and emphases).

  • 2 minutes: Preliminary interaction with subjects, aiming to acquaint them and, more importantly, make them feel comfortable and heard.

  • 3 minutes: Introduction of the subject to the site's home page.

  • 35 minutes: Completing tasks (ensure steady progress to avoid missing tasks due to getting stuck).

  • 5 minutes: Clarifying questions for the subject (preferably asked after task completion).

  • 5 minutes: Conclusion.

  • 5 minutes: Preparation for the next subject.

Essential guidelines for the facilitator:

  • Prohibited from instructing or hinting at how to perform tasks.

  • Prohibited from answering subjects' questions.

  • Prohibited from expressing personal opinions about the site and its functionality.

  • Maintain a neutral facial expression.

  • Ensure that the subject leaves the test in a situation no worse than when they arrived.

Improvements following the tests

During the tests, observers sit in a separate room, focusing solely on taking notes without posing questions. Observation serves as the initial step toward improvement, signaling to observers that enhancements are indeed necessary. Additionally, subjects often indicate potential solutions, although this alone is insufficient. Following the three tests, the next phase involves debriefing.

The author strongly recommends holding the debriefing as a lunch session, maximizing participation, saving time for involved parties, and fostering a pleasant atmosphere.

Investigation objectives:

  1. Identify the most significant usability issues observed during the tests.

  2. Based on this list, determine which usability issues will be addressed by the audit meeting next month.

Key assumptions during the debriefing:

  • All sites exhibit usability problems.

  • Organizations need more resources for addressing usability issues.

  • Usability problems outnumber available time for investment.

  • The risk of getting sidetracked by easily solvable problems rather than focusing on more critical matters is prevalent.

  • Active efforts are required to ensure the prioritized problems align with those addressed.

Debriefing outline recommendation:

  1. Request individuals to list all noticed problems and prioritize the top 3 issues.

  2. Conduct a vote on the list of issues to be addressed based on priorities.

Post-debriefing, generate a brief report covering:

  1. Description of what was tested.

  2. Description of tasks performed.

  3. List of problems chosen for addressing.

Tips for improvements:

  • Favor minimal changes to avoid introducing new usability problems.

  • Opt to reduce elements on the screen/window rather than adding elements that could degrade usability.

  • Recognize that improvements may face organizational and technical challenges, but persistence is vital. Improvement is feasible and worthwhile; don't give up.

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