Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Was Time Again?

Even after only a half hour at Steve Krug’s website, www.sensible.com, it’s clear his site would benefit from a thorough user cognition study, in which we consider the impressions his site leaves on visitors (or at least on this visitor, since, right now, this is just one man's opinion). Even though his book, “Don’t Make Me Think,” is regarded as a Web usability Bible, I left his site with a rather poor impression of the product and the man.

First of all, I understand he’s spent a long time developing a very sellable product – two actually: His book and himself. He certainly has a justifiable, vested interest in promoting himself and his products, as that’s how he earns his bread and butter (and, if his prices are indicative of anything) his caviar and Dom Perignon as well. But the soft sell/hard sell on every page of his website is wearying. Perhaps that is his intent – he is using his site as a marketing tool, as is his right. Still, for me, this site could be so much more than what it is now.

The site is very centered on Steve Krug. Examples vary from the minor (the little flourishes in crossing out “we are” and “we do” in his menu bar and replacing them with “I am” and “I do,”) to the eye-rollers (“just me and a few well-placed mirrors”) to the near-insulting (he touts his workshop, but advertises TWO on the registration form, then relegates a description of the other course, taught by someone else, to a little yellow box on the workshops page that, at first glance, I skipped over because it did not look important).

Rhetorically, I am having a hard time trying to figure out who he is talking to. Overall, I get the feeling the pages at www.sensible.com are written for middle management, who want the quick lowdown on what he offers. He gives just enough detail on the website to fill in detail a middle management person might want after he/she heard about the book and the workshops and might want to send someone to them for the company, but wants to be convinced the stuff is worthwhile enough to pry open the pocketbook (although you actually have to get to the registration form before you find out how much the workshops cost). There were a few instances when the message wandered into talking to writers, editors, designers – the people who might actually be sent to the workshop – in the FAQ, but overall, I felt the message was aimed at the “check-signers,” not the job-doers.

What's surprising to me is that, despite the title of his book “Don't Make Me Think,” part of this site, well, made me think.

Being the cost-conscious individual I am, I want to know how much the workshop costs. So I go to the workshop page. I discover there that I can’t find out on that page how much it costs, but he does tell me that if I cancel, I’ll be out a $100 processing fee. So I click on the register page. Ah. There’s the answer. But wait. Do I want to sign up for one workshop, or both workshops? Both? I thought there was only one. Back to the workshop page. I read all about his workshop again. But just one. Then, after five minutes worth of reading, I find information on the second workshop – it’s not one of his, so it doesn’t get very good play on the page – I have to click out of his page to learn more about it, then go back to his page to register. I assume. I didn’t try registering at the other site.

(Lou Rosenfeld’s page, by the way, I liked a lot better. Rhetorically it speaks to me as a web site user and tinkerer much more than Krug’s site, as Rosenfeld’s site is less about Rosenfeld and more about what I can get out of the workshop – testimonials, referring to “me” as the customer, rather than “I” as the website guru. I also enjoyed the “Bloug,” Rosenfeld’s blog, on the home page. I get to learn more about him as a person, how he thinks, writes, et cetera, than I do with Krug’s static page and clumsy personal asides. Rosenfeld invites interaction. Krug seems to want to keep us at arm’s length.)

Krug's pages seem static. He confesses: He’s slow. A new web page has been in development since 2005. It’s 93 percent done! Coming soon in 2009! I’m not holding my breath. Also, he confesses you can write to him, but he’s slow responding. He also offer a “Tip of the Month,” but confesses it has not been updated since June 1997. That’s right. His tip of the month is twelve years old. Nothing here really tells me he's interested in what a visitor to his site might want – he wants to put across his message (buy my stuff) – and nothing more

I like that the site feels hand-built. In a way, it’s less intimidating that way. However, part of me would suspect that a website promoting a web usability guru wouldn’t feel like something I put together in college in 1996. The site is stuck in the early web era. Yes, it’s simple, and simplicity is a good thing. To a point. It just feels stuck in the 1990s. Even newspapers, a product of the 17th century, redesign every few years to keep things fresh.

Basically, he’s telling me the same thing Dave Barry comes out front and says when he’s on book tour: “Buy my book [or my workshop, in Krug’s case]. Or send me some money in a box.”

And one final observation: Why does he slip into third person on the “Who I Am” page, when everything else about him is in the first person? It seems odd and boilerplated, as if it were cut and pasted from a book blurb.

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