Steve Martin

Designer, Thinker, Student of Human Behavior

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Filtering by Tag: usability

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?

DIY Usability Testing – the video

A big thanks to the folks over at for uploading my presentation from WordCamp Boulder last month.

And, on the advice of the wonderful Whitney Hess, here's a sampling of the Twitter responses to my talk at WordCamp Boulder. Thanks again for all of the kind words:

  • "#wcboulder Be sure 2 catch Steve Martin on DIY Usability Testing. Extremely valuable preso." -@ron_z
  • "Seeing tons of tweets that you rocked your session, @CleverCubed. Nice work! And damn if I miss one of your talks again! #wcboulder" -@caligater
  • "From what I have heard, I am sorry I missed @clevercubed at #wcboulder - I will be finding the video of that one." -@comomma
  • "I have to say I think @clevercubed was the best part of #wcboulder yet. Oh, the awesomeness." -@savysarah
  • "RT @savysarah: I have to say I think @clevercubed was the best part of #wcboulder yet. Oh, the awesomeness. || I agree" -@JamesReyes
  • "@clevercubed hit a homerun w/ usability talk. Well done. #wcboulder" -@jasonmonster
  • "@CleverCubed you rocked it sir" -@andrewhyde
  • "@clevercubed Congrats on the home run preso at #wcboulder!" -@ron_z
  • "Overheard more than one person state @clevercubed 's talk was the best they heard today at #wcboulder I'd have to agree." -@DaryleDickens
  • "Steve is crushing it at #wcboulder on UX." -@CohereLLC
  • "My favorite session at #wcboulder was DIY usability. What did other people like?" -@ClickAdvisors
  • "Enjoyed WordCamp Boulder! The DIY Usability Course was cool. Thanks to everyone that put it together. #wcboulder" -@NameTalent
  • "The hype for Steve Martin's usability talk at #wcboulder was well-deserved. Great info." -@chrisscott
  • "#wcboulder redeemed itself with the DYI usability testing bit" -@hankpantier

The Usability Virus

When Solomon said "With much wisdom comes much sorrow" I know he wasn't exactly talking about website usability, but wow, was he right. Website usability is like a virus. You go along for most of your life, happily (or not) clicking through websites, finding (or not) the stuff you're looking for, never really thinking about the usability of the sites you encounter every day. Sure, some websites are hard to use, but you think "it's probably just me" or you simply click back to Google and go to the next site, hoping you can figure it out this time.

Then someone comes along and, in their most helpful and innocent voice, teaches you all about "Usability" (with a capital "U"). They explain that, no, it's NOT just you - these offending sites should know better or at least should do something about it. They even show you how easy it would have been for these sites to be tested to find problems, and how easy and cheap that really could be!

Now you're in trouble. You've got the virus, and there is no cure.

Basic symptoms include:

  • inability to visit a website without silently critiquing its usability issues
  • complaining (often loudly to those in the room with you) about how "HORRIBLE 'Brand X's' website is, although they've OBVIOUSLY spent tens of thousands of $$'s on it!!"
  • emailing examples of bad websites to the person who gave you the virus in the first place
  • lying awake at night worrying about the usability of your OWN website, and if others with the virus are secretly laughing at you

Advanced symptoms:

  • a voice in the back of your mind telling you that you can't rest until all existing usability problems have been remedied
  • your obsession with "Usability" bleeds over into the "real" world, and you start to stay things like, "The button on that coffee maker is REALLY not in the right place. Where's that customer service number?!"
  • your spouse tells you to "get over it" and "just change the stinking diaper and quit griping", etc.

So yes, Solomon, the more you know about Usability, the more annoyed you're going to be with the web. But do not fear: Together we, the infected, can make the world a happier and more usable place to be. We shall overcome!!