Steve Martin

Designer, Thinker, Student of Human Behavior

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Doing the WORK of UX

I like to think of myself as a pretty pragmatic guy. Nothing bugs me more than spinning wheels talking about thinking about doing something, and never getting around to the DOING! UX designers have a tendency to be navel gazers.

A lot of what we do involves specialized tools, concepts and methods, and we (out of necessity) have to pay a lot of attention to those tools and methods. The danger here is to let yourself turn THOSE things into the work, and never get around to doing the REAL work of shipping.

In Seth Godin's newest book, Linchpin, he spends a lot of time on this exact problem. The lizard brain LOVES stuff that is safe. Things that can't fail.

While vitally important to getting the job done WELL, don't get caught in the details of things like...

  • user stories
  • use cases
  • personas
  • workflows
  • usability testing

...or else the job won't get done at ALL. 

If it's NOT in a product/website/thing, it DOESN'T exist.
Make sure your work exists.

My continued campaign against icon-only UI's

Q: What happens when you opt for icons ONLY on an interface so you can save on translation costs?A: You get a completely unintelligible user interface.

Case in point: European vs. American home appliances

American: uses WORDS to say what happens



European: uses these icons with NO words.




I can personally attest to the confusion of having these icons on appliances when we lived in Europe. A constant source of frustration.

“What’s that ‘P’ with the lines around it mean?” “The BIG ‘P’ or the little ‘P’?” “Is there a difference?” “I don’t know” “Neither do I”

(via Slate)

What to NEVER do in a dropdown list

I was reminded by @jochenWolters yesterday of this screenshot I took a couple weeks ago of perhaps the WORST case of dropdown-related IA/UX ever.  Seriously - who thought it was a good idea to organize all the dropdown options by string-length?? Put this on your list of "Never Ever Do This. Ever. Ever!"


3 Steps to Good PowerPoint Presentations

I've given several presentations/webinars/speeches to groups and conferences lately, and they've all gone very well - it's something I really enjoy. I tend to get a lot of compliments on the content & presentation style which is humbling and welcome since I really put a lot of time in to each presentation. The thing that I DIDN'T expect when I got the presentations together was how many people would love my PowerPoint presentations themselves! (I use the term "PowerPoint" only because it's become a ubiquitous term for "digitally projected presentation" although I don't use PowerPoint - read below) I have yet to give a talk without multiple people telling me how much the PowerPoint itself was awesome. Questions like "How did you do that?" and "Can I hire you to do my presentations?" (at least 5 people have asked that one) are common. I recently got an email from someone in Vancouver asking me for tips on good PPT presentations, so I thought I'd copy/paste what I emailed him to give other people a place to go:

There's so much that goes in to a good presentation it's hard to distill it down into a blog post, but here are 3 steps that will help.

  • Step 1: Read Seth Godin's eBook: "Really Bad Powerpoint and How to Avoid It" (click here to download it - it's free) It will cover a LOT of things such as limiting the amount of text on a slide, using big images, etc. This will help you way more than I could in a short post.
  • Step 2: Don't use PowerPoint (if you can avoid it). I use Keynote, which is a Mac only application. (If you don't use a Mac, click HERE and BUY ONE - you'll thank me later). Keynote is vastly superior to PowerPoint in many many ways: better built-in themes, better transitions, and better overall design to name a few. It makes it easy to look polished and slick.
  • Step 3: Have very good content (this should go without saying). If you don't have well thought-out content that's well organized, you're not going to have a good presentation.

Hope that helps! Feel free to ask any other questions you may have, but no - I won't do your presentation for you. If you don't do it yourself, people will know.

The iTunes 10 Travesty

Come on, Apple. I was just lauding your "consistent UI" and "great grasp of UX" to some folks a couple of days ago, and you go and release iTunes 10. As my daughter would say, "That's icky!" Here are my few complaints, along with a few from folks around the interwebs:

  1. The "close / minimize / maximize" buttons are now VERTICAL!? WHAT? Every, and I mean EVERY app in OSX has them horizontal. Why would you do this? A central theme of good UI design is that you keep things consistent and strive to meet the user's expectations. This just confuses people. ESPECIALLY if they're COLOR-BLIND. Big fail here. Not to mention that putting the buttons here makes the top bar of the app super skinny, thus making it hard to grab and move around (same problem Google Chrome has). Luckily, there's a fix for this one - and it works great!

  2. The color has been completely sucked out of the UI. So many people navigate using those colored icons. People don't look at whether it's a little "gear" or "music notes" - people look for "green" or "blue". Plus, from an aesthetic standpoint, it's all boring and monochrome. I have a COLOR monitor for a reason. Looks like there's a fix for that as well.

  3. In the podcast section, the checkboxes have been moved into their own column, thus putting them outside the hierarchy of the dropdown. This is a BIG no-no in UI design. Things that relate to each other need to be NEXT TO each other (see Gestalt Law of Proximity). I see what they're trying to do (put the checks in their own column so they're moveable), but I can't figure out why that's needed. There's no reason to move the checks away from the actual item they refer to - it only confuses and makes me think. DON'T MAKE ME THINK!

  4. This isn't so much a UX complaint, but they sure missed an opportunity with the new iTunes app icon. They removed the CD, and I get that (I haven't bought a CD in YEARS), but it's still just music notes. There's so much MORE in iTunes than music. But, then again, maybe they would have needed to change the name of the app. Here's an iTunes icon that at least matches the iTunes icon on the iOS devices.

Here's a SMALL sampling of quotes from around the Twitterverse:

"whichever vampire drained the color from iTunes 10 should be taken out back behind 5IL and staked to the basket ball court." @rudyrichter

"the only thing worse than iTunes 10 is Ping. #justsayin" @timschraeder

"What do we hate! ITUNES 10! Why do we hate it! BECAUSE IT IS UGLY! <chant>" @sh

"my computer is asking me to dl iTunes 10.0 but I don't think I want to cuz I don't want the new ugly logo." @jb140

"Is it just me, or is the new iTunes 10 73% more ugly, cluttered and unnecessary? More ugly" @sirhcllenrad

"Every version of iTunes has had it's own 'unique' UX. And it's horribly inconsistent with their OS." @studuncan

Needless to say, people aren't happy. I have to wonder how much testing is actually done on some of Apple's internal stuff, or if they just let designers have their way with things. Either way, I sure hope they'll do something about it eventually. For now, I'm going to go see how much SPAM is on Ping...

Conversions 'R' Us

I was recently asked to give a webinar (although I hate that word, just for the record) about how to increase conversions on your website. The organizers wanted to call it "Website Optimization: How to increase conversions & boost revenue", but that sounded kinda boring and dry. So I called it "Conversions 'R' Us" - much better, I think. Then I asked myself, "Steve, what's the most effective way to increase conversions on a website?" to which I responded, "A killer user experience!" to which I agreed.  I checked with Whitney Hess for permission to use the 4 steps she outlines in her "DIY UX" talk, to which she kindly agreed, and the presentation turned out pretty good (if I do say so myself). I also borrowed a couple slides from my DIY Usability talk, to which I also kindly agreed. (Oh, and I stole the "Zune vs. iPod" idea from Jared Spool)

If you'd like to see me give this presentation in person, stay tuned for an announcement of where and when (hint: Art Lab, Fort Collins, Colorado - sometime in the future).


My Microwave - a lesson in usability

As I mentioned in the Usability Virus, the more you get in to this whole "usability" thing, the more you see it (or the lack of it) all around you. Case in point: our new microwave. We recently got rid of our dinosaur of a roaringly loud microwave, and got a nice & shiny new one. The number of options for microwaves out there are stunning, especially when you think about the fact that 87% of the time you use it for reheating your coffee, and 10% for thawing frozen chicken breasts because you forgot to take them out this morning and the wife wants you to grill them and everyone's hungry (that other 3% is, of course, popcorn).

The other annoying thing about a new microwave is that you have to learn a whole new magic combination of buttons just to do the coffee thing! The first microwave we had (that I can remember) when I was a kid was the kind with the dial. Turn it to 1-minute, it cooks for 1-minute and *ding* you're done. Easy. Then everything got all digital and fancy, and now I could choose between 44 and 45 seconds, but I had to press "Clear"+"Time"+"45"+"Cook"+"Power"+"10"+"Start" when ALL I wanted was "45"+"Start".

So imagine my joy and delight when I went to warm up my coffee the first morning we had this new microwave and ALL I had to press was "45"+"Start". That's IT!! *[insert sound of angels rejoicing]*

microwave usability

microwave usability

Okay, okay, it's just a microwave (as my exasperated wife reminded me when I took the above picture), but the SIMPLICITY of the basic function is a thing of beauty. Sure, there are all KINDS of other options like cooking temp, a fancy defrost feature, blah blah blah, but I'm most concerned with that 87% of my time.

The lesson here: Simplify. If you have a website (or product) that has a bunch of different functions, fine. But figure out which of those functions is most used, and make it DEAD simple to do THAT. The other stuff is useful and necessary, but people want and need to do that ONE thing more than anything else.

What's that ONE thing for you?