In any case, I just don’t expect our books, which are so focused on the user experience community, to be purchased on impulse at your local Barnes & Noble. I do expect it to be attractive to purchase directly from Rosenfeld Media. For the same price as you’ll pay at Amazon, you’ll also receive the digital edition, optimized for on-screen use. ( More on this below.)
Also, established publishers aren’t quite ready to jump into the UX waters with both feet. It’s still a relatively small and misunderstood market, so you can’t blame them. I’m convinced that the UX community will grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years, so I’m willing to take a chance that more risk-averse publishers are avoiding. I’m looking forward to serving that community with short and practical books that will collectively constitute a Swiss Army Knife for the field.
JK: The About page for Rosenfeld Media says one of the core ideas behind the company is “eating our own dog food.” How will you be doing this?
LR: By using UX methods to inform the design of our own products and infuse our services. That means doing little things the right way—like quickly and personally answering every customer query—and it means big things—like investing in the design and testing of both our print and digital books.
JK: One research technique you used to learn more about your audience was show-and-tell sessions. Tell me more about how those were run and what you found.
LR: I facilitated four show-and-tell sessions with groups of five to fifteen participants, generally as lunch-time brown bags. Three groups consisted of UX practitioners; the fourth group was made up of design students. Collectively they represented a healthy variety of design-related disciplines, including interaction designers, visual designers, usability engineers, ethnographers, developers, and information architects.
I asked each participant to show a few user experience books that they loved and a few that they didn’t and to tell us about the features that made the difference. Not surprisingly, UX people are passionate about their books, and some stimulating discussions broke out. (I tried my best to stay out of the way.) I gleaned a lot of good ideas about book features—for example, optimal book size, margin width, relative importance of tables of contents versus indices—as well as usage context—such as between stops of the subway or during a medium-length plane trip. I also learned what just about everyone’s favorite book was, hands down: Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think!
JK: What aspects of Don’t Make Me Think! made it such a stand out book?
LR: Aside from the fantastic writing, the humor, and the illustrations that always work perfectly? Well, first and foremost, it’s short. And that’s especially important when a book often serves as a gift for a manager. Its physical dimensions (7"x9") make it stuffable. (We’re taking the dimensions down a little more with our titles to 6"x9".) Don’t Make Me Think!’s sections and chapters are very short and digestible, and his tone is conversational. We’re trying to emulate those qualities, too—although we have to balance them with the individual style and tone that each author brings.
JK: In retrospect, did you find the show-and-tell sessions valuable?
LR: The show-and-tell approach worked quite well, given my limited time and budget and the fact that I had no design of my own for users to evaluate. It wasn’t as useful and rigorous as, say, a field study would have been, but certainly better than a focus group, which would have provided almost no value whatsoever. It provided me with a huge list of features to incorporate into the Rosenfeld Media series design, and it helped me identify a good book as a model for that design. In fact, I hired Allison Cecil, the interior designer of Don’t Make Me Think!, to develop our series’s interiors.
But perhaps the most important benefit was that it forced me to think more critically about something that I—and most of us—take for granted: the design of books. With some exceptions—like an FAQ for each book—the resulting design is still very much within the boundaries of conventional book design, but I’d have always regretted not having explored opportunities to push the envelope a bit.
If you’re interested in reading more about the sessions, I’ve shared most of my notes: