Make it small and simple, please

Here I’ll talk about usability: how can software applications be more useful, easy-to-use for users. I recently read a book, Rocket Surgery made easy (Steve Krug), and I really liked it; I found it very interesting and there was several hints that are very useful and should be taken into account when developing software applications, specially web applications, specially when designing graphical interfaces, or generally speaking, human interfaces.

So, I’d recommend all of you to read this book, but in this small article my aim is to explain how to fix those usability bugs detected by a user, a client, a developer, a tester or whoever. What’s the best way to fix usability bugs?

When it’s all about fixing usability issues, Steve Krug recommends to do the least you can do.

Yes, you read it right. Read it again if you thing you didn’t got it.

Sounds good now? Not yet? Okay, let me explain this, then. When fixing usability bugs, think about the smallest, simplest change that makes the problem not noticeable. Since usability ‘bugs’ are not usual bugs (there is nothing broken or nothing that is not working really), there is no point in doing a big effort in fixing them. It’s a matter of keeping the essentials of the application immutable but easier to use. Does this make sense to you?

In spite of this, there is some resistance to apply this idea. Reasons:

“If we’re going to fix it, let’s do it right.” Instead of making things better for users right now, let’s obliterate the problem from the design, let’s spend more money and time and after a lot of time, if users still want to use our application they’ll feel happy to see this little thing fixed.

“It’s a design problem. It’s not easy to fix it”. Come on, I’m sure that there is something that you can do to make it look better, don’t you?

“Well, we’ll release a completely new version soon, so we can live with it by the moment”. Here Krug tells us that he had ‘temporary ‘countertops in his kitchen for ten years, just because “they were going to redesign the kitchen soon”.

“I don’t want to cover my application with patches everywhere”. Ok, you’re right to some extent. But a patch is better than a hole, isn’t it?

“We have a lot of work right now. We can’t fix it now”. Ok, you don’t have time for a perfect solution, but you have time to do something acceptable, don’t you?

Two key rules to fix usability things:

Tweak, don’t redesign. Because a tweak costs less, requires less work, can be made sooner, is more likely to happen…

Take something away. Often, the best way to fix a usability problem in a feature is just hide that feature. So, just remove it.

That’s all, folks. If you found this interesting, I’ll suggest you to read the whole book. It’s about one hundred pages and the author writes in a very easy-to-read way, so it can be read in a whole day. Cheers!


Rocket surgery made easy, Steve Krug