Published on January 26, 2005
Digital Web: Congratulations on releasing a new edition of your book, Web ReDesign 2.0: Workflow that Works. In the introduction, it states it’s not a how-to design manual, how-to manual for usability testing, or a technical manual. What is the book?
Kelly Goto: It’s an overview on how to create effective experiences for the developer, designer, and also the end user. It’s a comprehensive, real-world combination of best practices and techniques. When we started this book, we thought it was a process or workflow, but now we see it’s an industry guide, an approach towards Web development and almost a philosophy. Taking that to an even higher level, it helps businesses understand how to create value.
It can be taken at three different levels:
- Workflow guide
- Overview of how Web development fits into business logic
- Creating an effective user experience
DW: What prompted you to write an update? What are the differences between the first and second editions?
KG: The Web industry has changed and the technologies we are used to have changed as well. Sites today need to offer real value to the customer. Current timelines and budgets have been reduced and businesses expect results on a quarterly—not annual—basis. Web sites are actually expected to perform. Consumer expectation is high and there’s a need to balance the effectiveness from a technology and usability standpoint with bottom-line budget and timeframes. This book addresses these issues.
It takes the Core Process and applies it to faster cycles of development with smaller budgets and higher expectations. The process that was introduced in the first book still applies. What we have changed is context—the context is the new economy, in-house teams that are in need of a roadmap or a plan allowing the incorporation of best practices and standards-based design. There is a new emphasis on CSS and the concept of separating content from presentation as well as measuring site effectiveness, and a new chapter on developing technical specifications.
DW: How do you recommend using the book’s redesign process?
KG: We found even on the smallest of projects that following a methodology that works for you is important. Take this book’s core processes, which are fundamental steps that work for projects large and small, and modify them to meet your specific needs.
This book is designed to be browsed in sections or reviewed in detail depending on what your project needs. From various readers, we learned that this book has been invaluable at all levels—from director to manager to the design teams. It offers a high-level understanding of the process and where they fit into it as a whole.
DW: What are the right reasons for redesigning a Web site? And the wrong reasons?
KG: The right reason for redesigning a site is to accomplish specific goals such as brand consistency, reduced calls to support and higher lead generation.
There are no wrong reasons, only wrong approaches—not having a clear understanding of your customers’ needs, site performance or how the Web site fits into your business as a whole.
Sites can always be improved. The moment a new site is launched, it is time to start redesigning. Companies and businesses see the value in approaching one part of their site at a time, in iterative stages.
DW: What are the three most frequent mistakes that occur during a redesign project?
KG: Here are three that come to mind—not in any particular order:
- Not hiring someone specifically to deal with content
- A lack of specific measurable goals
- Not having a clear brand vision
The New Usability
DW: What is the New Usability?
KG: The New Usability is a necessary approach to target specific initiatives that combine a series of research and testing methodologies. This is not new to the usability community; however, the “new” part is developing around short cycles or rapid testing techniques throughout the development cycle.
The “new” part focuses not only on one-on-one but also on many other methods of gathering data and insights including contextual inquiry, card sorting, surveys, and expert/heuristic evaluations applied throughout the process. Though the theory itself is not new, it’s rarely applied in the real world with budget restrictions and short timelines.
It also turns from a company-centered vision to a user-centered vision. Many times a customer will have more than one way of obtaining information from a company—they turn to the Web, they look at a catalog, or they call an available 1-800 number. They may also have competitive information that a company isn’t even aware of. By stepping into the end user’s shoes, we can see how they think, and understand how to create a more effective experience for them—sometimes, just with small tweaks and changes in copy.
DW: With streamlined budgets, how can a design team implement the process surrounding the New Usability?
KG: Actually it’s tough, but doable. You have to believe in the methodology and the approach. The trick is to train or hire someone who has a background in usability research or the aptitude to learn. The cycles are fast; the test-plan development, recruiting and testing process needs to happen simultaneously with the rest of the design and development cycle. Having access to your target audience is important—if you cannot access your audience, it will be very difficult to test in this manner.
However, if you have a really low budget, you can get by without one-way mirrors and videotaping. All you need is a one-on-one session with your user. This process is not covered in the new book, as it has been hard enough to get companies to actually test at all. However, we will have articles and perhaps even a book in the future that outlines this approach in detail.
The trick is to develop a strategy that brings the user back into the picture at key points within the development cycle, and spending $10,000 on testing. An additional few tests may save $100,000 or more in lost business.
DW: What drove the evolution to the New Usability?
KG: As we move past the era of brochure sites, we find that the Web is an interactive, functional application with an easily changeable front-face. The simplest of interactions can be made more functional by listening to your end users and hearing what they have to say.
As I said before, this methodology is not new. Many human factors consultants and usability experts have long preached the benefits of testing and feedback methods. But actually incorporating it into a long-term strategy and workflow—this is the new approach: doing it, and seeing the results.
DW: What changes will a design team need to make to make the New Usability work?
KG: It’s not so much a structural change as an attitude change. And the skill set and approach towards testing in general needs to be completely collaborative. It is difficult to find designers who actually welcome usability changes and input. Generally, designers are more focused on the branding aspects of an interface.
DW: Jakob Nielsen has recently published an article called Durability of Usability Guidelines. What are your thoughts on this?
KG: Our approach is a bit different. In addition to usability testing, we incorporate a more ethnographic-based methodology (observation and immersive research techniques) throughout the process. While these methods are also not new to the industry, they are generally not applicable to fast-paced project and product cycles. We’ve been working closely with outside research firms and getting into culture and lifestyle, which is important as we strive to create experiences that integrate into people’s everyday lives, not just one-off experiences.
Integrated cycles of testing from the earliest stages of the development cycle are really key. Contextual inquiry, card sorting, prototype testing and final-assessment testing help shape the experience of new products and application-based services. What Jacob outlines is true, but I don’t believe our method is a simple rehashing of old theories. Incorporating testing into the actual process—that is the most important.
In the book, we weave a careful balance between telling people what they should do versus what they can do. If I suggest something, I want to be sure people can do it. So, my mentioning usability in the book was not as detailed as the New Usability because it is difficult to incorporate one in the Core Process, much less several rounds of testing into the general process.
It’s like vitamins. If you tell people they should take too much or too many, they end up doing nothing. So, the careful balance the book weaves is suggesting a real-world process, and things that should be taken into consideration. I would love to have gone into much more detail regarding many topics in the book, but doing so would pull the balance from what is actually doable.
DW: What else would you like to add?
KG: Incorporating iterative cycles of development into a larger strategy is an investment in a long-term plan, with measurable output.
DW: You stay busy with your business and speaking at conferences around the country. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
KG: What spare time? 😉
I travel as much as possible, and encourage my team to do so as well. Our internal mission statement is “Exceed expectations and take vacations.”
Actually, on a personal and professional level, I am very interested in cultural ethnography and studying people in their actual environment to understand the motivating cultural factors that affect choice and behavior. I take any chance I have to incorporate my love for photography and travel into a short trip or a two-month sabbatical. I cook to relax and read whenever possible. I just bought a new Nikon D70, which I am very excited to try out.
Kelly Goto is principal of gotomedia, inc. a San Francisco based company focused on web redesign and user centered methodology. Kelly also continues to lecture and teach internationally on the topics of usability, information design and workflow. Kelly, along with Emily Cotler, recently co-authored Web ReDesign: Workflow that Works.
Meryl K. Evans, content maven, is a WaSP member even though she’s far from being a WASP. The content maven writes a column for PC Today and blogs for the Web Design Reference Guide at InformIT. Meryl provides the home for the CSS Collection and she’s the editor of Professional Services Journal, meryl’s notes :: the newsletter as well as other newsletters, so tell all your friends, families and animals to subscribe. Her ancient blog keeps cluckin’ since its arrival on the web in 2000.