How I do what I do

I love this post’s title. Just saying. Anyway, in an ideal world, this blog includes at least one weekly review (and soon it will again!). Since I also work and am taking three graduate courses at Pratt, most of the books reviewed of late are not ones I’ve read recently. Some are books I don’t even remember reading the first time because it was so long ago. But I still review them, usually, without rereading.

The way I do that is starting at Amazon.com to pick up reviews, and a general blurb. I often disagree with the majority or most helpful reviews there, but it’s a start. If I still need help, I pull my ace in the hole: Google Books–a site that is the closest thing to magic that I have found online since my discovery of goodreads (thank you Tyler who probably doesn’t know about this blog for that viral email invite!). If you aren’t familiar with Google Books, it is a book digitization project which offers limited previews of tons of books. These previews usually include most of the book with only a few gaps as well as a search in book option. With that, I am able to skim a book without having to find a physical copy of said book (which saves a lot of time) so while it isn’t a replacement for real books (and no digital medium ever will be as far as I’m concerned) it’s definitely something.

So now you now.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Non-Fiction Review

Don't Make Me Think by Steve KrugNowadays, most students are faced with the world of HTML and computer science at some point in their academic careers. For me, the first time was in CIS 101 in college. (Yes, there was a second time. It turns out grad school does not assume computer literacy). Although it isn’t always part of the formal curriculum, usability is always an underlying theme in technology classes even if it is just a question of whether the HTML textbook is actually written in gibberish or not. Usability is also one of the few fields where anyone, even the computer illiterate, can be an expert.

The idea behind usability is simple: Look at a given design and see how accessible it is for users. Anyone can have an opinion on usability and everyone can provide input. All it takes is a clear head and the patience to look at what works (or doesn’t) and why. If you use it, you have information about its usability. To get back to the subjects of Computer Science and technology, usability has lately been applied to the world of Web design.

Usability consultant Steve Krug lays out all of the basics about Web usability in his book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2005) currently in its second edition, published in 2006 after the first edition sold nearly 100,000 copies.

As far as titles go, there are few that offer as clear a picture of the book’s content as this one. Krug’s main point throughout his 185-page guide is that good Web sites don’t make users think. Unlike college, Krug posits that using a conventional website should not be an intellectual exercise. It should be simple, it should be neat, and it should be self-evident. In other words, if a user cannot identify the site’s purpose, and where to start on said site, just by viewing the homepage something has gone horribly wrong.

Krug details how to fix such problems and how to avoid them with usability tests. That may sound self-serving save for the fact that Krug also explains how to conduct usability tests on the cheap without the benefit of a usability consultant such as himself.

Written in short chapters packed with illustrations, this book is designed to be approachable and easy to read. Krug is serious about Web usability, but that in no way means his book is stodgy or dry. Examples of usability at work are littered with cartoons and the text maintains a sense of humor. My favorite chapter title (and subtitle) “Usability as common courtesy: Why your Web site should be a mensch” might offer some idea of what tone to expect from this book.

Of course, taking a computer class to meet a core requirement in college doesn’t always lead to work in the field of Web design in fact most of the time it leads to an entirely different career. But, in today’s technology-driven culture, doesn’t everything come back to the Internet eventually?

It might just be working as an intern at an online magazine, or a starting position where duties include entering data into online spreadsheets, or it might just be writing your own blog on a site like WordPress or Blogger. Wherever your path leads, knowing something about Web usability and how good Web sites get that way can only help. As more and more information moves to cyberspace, with websites being created and updated all the time, it’s important to be prepared by knowing how to analyze not only the information found online but also how it is presented. Don’t Make Me Think is one tool that can assist Web users in that preparation.
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition

“Do you read a lot?”

I attract lunatics, there is no other explanation:

After a harrowing jaunt through various forms of NY transportation, I finally made it to work. I stepped into the elevator as a man appeared to be stepping out. I pressed my floor and leaned against the wall waiting for the elevator to close. The man stepped back in looking confused as he stood across from me.

Man: “You look nice.”

Miss Print: *nods in a vaguely friendly vaguely standoffish way*

Man: “Do you read a lot?”

Miss Print: “I work here.” [Best way to totally shoot the guy down.]

I later directed the man to the floor he wanted to be on because apparently he doesn’t read a lot (at MU anyway) and had no idea where he was.