Random ruminations as I figure out and deal with life, grad school, being an engineer and a product manger; learn more about technology, marketing, economics, news, writing short stories and other stuff that distracts me from doing whatever I'm supposed to be doing....
Optimizing on the wrong metric? (and a quick book review)
I finished Steve's Krug "Don't Make Me Think" a few weeks ago. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in usability; most reactions when I told folks I'd finished it were off the "you haven't read it already?" and "you realize when that book was written!" variety. :)
There are a bunch of great ideas in there. The most important one for me was really just the title of the book, i.e. when users get to websites, apps, anything really etc., they're typically looking to do something specific so:
they skim; they don't really read and process everything you might put there
so using minimal design and familiar patterns is critical to usability
i.e. make sure they don't need to think much.
But a few days later, a conversation at work reminded me of another great idea in the book, i.e. "make sure you're measuring for and optimizing for the right metric."
For websites and web forms in particular for example, "reducing the number of clicks" is generally the right thing to do. However, this is a dangerous heuristic to follow thoughtlessly.
The rationale behind this is that multiple clicks means more information to process, and more things for the user to do - which is bad. It also means multiple screens to fetch and display, which tends to be slower overall - which is worse. So while often this heuristic may work, I saw a couple of examples recently where in an attempt to cram more information (and reduce the number of clicks) a web form was actually made more complex and intimidating - i.e. it forced the user to think much more which is really the worst.
In this case more clicks where I didn't need to think much >> fewer clicks where I needed to exercise more brain cells.
I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.
I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.
It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…
Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.
My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.
She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.
No one did.
The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.
Still nobody moved.
My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn…
Ever since I can remember, I've imagined a version of my life where I teach.
I was never really sure why. I just knew it was something I'd probably really enjoy. I'd done enough of training and presenting at conferences over the last many years that I knew I really enjoy getting up in front on a crowd. I'd also guest lectured occasionally and recruited enough to know I really enjoyed interacting with students.
Then in April, I ended up lecturing at 3 schools - Chicago, Stanford and the University of Michigan. The topics were completely different at each of the schools, and I left each lecture exhilarated. In two of those cases, I was also exhausted - but that's another story. :-)
There were a few reasons why:
The creative itch: This applies to presentation of this type in general. but the foreword of this book really summed it up. The author taught a class because he was clear that it helped him scratch a creative itch that he had that his job as a lawyer didn'…