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SWON News: The Low Down

Changing a Light Bulb

Thursday, November 20, 2014  
Posted by: Nathan Swartzendruber
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When a blinker went out on my car a few weeks ago, I looked up the part number in my owner’s manual and went to an auto parts store. The bulb numbering had changed (I guessed on seeing the packages), so I looked up the part number in the book helpfully located in that aisle and scanned the packages down to where the bulb should be.

There was no orange light there. So after hunting around for a few minutes, I went up to the desk to ask for help. The tech came back with me and located the light quickly. The package had two part numbers on it, and it wasn’t shelved by the number I was looking for. She knew to look for it in a different place when there wasn't a match for the first number.

I paid my $6 and left thinking, that was awfully difficult. It seemed set up for easy self-service, but it would have been much quicker to have gone straight to the counter and let the tech fetch the light for me. That’s poor usability. The process seemed self-explanatory, but that explanation was wrong.

Experiences like this are frustrating, and familiar. They’re also avoidable, to a great extent, when usability is a constant participant in the design process. A great way to get acquainted with this field is with Steve Krug’s book on web usability, Don’t Make Me Think. The ebook version also happens to be on sale for $12.99 this week.

I like this book because it has a nice mix of research and common sense. Krug’s done a lot of usability testing, and he uses those testing results to set up principles of usability. For example, people scan web pages; they don’t read all the text that’s there. So organize pages so their purpose can be quickly understood at a scan. These principles are very useful for working on website design, but they’re also great for other information-rich locations. Like libraries.

Changing a light bulb should only take one person. Designing for usability rewards the people who use the tools you build instead of suggesting you don’t want them to be too independent. Want to chat about usability? Send me an email at

  • Nathan Swartzendruber, SWON Technology Educator

Level-Up Lab: Project Management

Managing a project requires focused attention in a lot of different directions, from concerns like usability testing to the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. It can be very helpful to hear about someone else’s project management approach to help you organize your own work.

This Level-Up Lab, scheduled for December 10th at SWON’s office, covers a lot of ground and can connect you to other project managers. With time for instruction and time for discussion, there are lots of ways to find good take-aways. Register now!

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