Rosenfeld Media: You’ve always been a big proponent of DIY Usability, i.e. the fact that it’s not rocket science so anyone should be able to do it. We understand anyone can do it, but does that mean they can do it well?
Steve Krug: Actually, my trademarked slogan is “It’s not rocket surgery,”™ but why quibble? You’re right: it does mean I believe that most people—with a little instruction—can do much of what I do as a usability consultant. They can’t do it as well as I can—hopefully—because I’ve been doing it for 25 years, but a lot of it is just applying common sense.
And that’s particularly true for running some basic usability tests. Someone with experience–especially a professional–can probably do a better job than an amateur. But can an amateur do it well? In my experience, almost anyone can do at least a halfway decent job right away. After all, it mostly consists of just giving someone a task (or tasks) to do using whatever you’re building, and then watching them while keeping them thinking aloud. In fact, the hardest part for beginners is biting their tongue and resisting the impulse to help, to comment, and to ask leading questions.
RM: But does this mean they can do it well enough to make it worthwhile?
SK: I think so, for a few reasons.
First, someone beginning to do DIY testing probably hasn’t been doing any testing before, and some testing is infinitely better than none.
Second, if they haven’t been doing any testing, then there are probably huge usability problems just waiting to be found. So even if the facilitation is less than perfect, the participant is still going to run into the worst problems and the observers are going to see them.
And finally, I’ve been asking people for years to send me examples of cases where testing by amateurs made a product worse. And after all this time, I haven’t had anyone send me a convincing example. In fact, most of the examples I’ve received have been where supposed professionals did a shoddy job. It makes sense that these are the ones I get, because professionals are—correctly—held to a higher standard. So I guess my answer is that amateurs may not do a perfect job, but they almost always do it more than well enough.
RM: If anyone can do it themselves, when would you need an expert or consultant to come in and help?
SK: I’ve always said that if you can afford to hire a professional, by all means do it. It’s just that the vast majority of the people out there developing “stuff”—sites, apps, etc.—can’t afford to hire someone. That’s why I’m always trying to teach people how to do it themselves.
But if you have any money for it, I’d highly recommend at least hiring a professional to do two things:
1. An expert review. Having a pro look at your stuff and apply their years of experience is enormously valuable. In particular, they’re likely to have a lot of knowledge about what’s worth fixing, and what kinds o fixes will actually work. It’s a great investment.
2. Coaching. Even if you’re doing DIY testing, it’s great to have someone with experience looking over your shoulder and mentoring while you get started. They can help you formulate task scenarios, show you ways to recruit participants, observe your sessions and critique your facilitation skills, and decide what to fix and how to fix it.
Like I said, professionals are going to be better at it than you are. But if you can’t afford to have one around all the time, get them to teach you.
RM: Thanks, Steve!