Interview: Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug on UX - WebReference Update - 030410 | WebReference

Interview: Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug on UX - WebReference Update - 030410

WebReference Update: April 10, 2003

This week we interview Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug on user experience consulting. Both have authored best-selling books and both now speak together on a new tour in the U.S. We talked to this unlikely couple about the new all-encompassing rubric "User Experience Design" to find out more from the front lines.*- link to us today*- newsletter home*- submit article

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1. INTERVIEW:  Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug on the User Experience Consulting Experience

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1. INTERVIEW: Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug on the User Experience Consulting Experience

WebRef: User experience design (UX) seems to be capturing the attention of so many these days. Why? And why are you guys hopping on the UX bandwagon?

Lou: I'm typically anti-wagon (I much prefer to walk). But I do happen to like this particular bandwagon. We need UX because contemporary design challenges are too complex; no single established field, such as graphic design, computer science, or technical communication, can provide the array of techniques and wisdom necessary.

There are newer fields, like information architecture and usability, which are on the right track - these espouse multi- disciplinary methodologies. But they're each still a bit narrowly focused and come with baggage. UX could provide a broad design umbrella for us all to get under, compare notes and techniques, maybe even come up with a shared design methodology.

If nothing else, UX could also help provide a framework that would enable interdisciplinary conversations. After all, one of the hardest parts of working in a multidisciplinary environment is that we literally don't speak the same language.

Heh. Let's hope we don't screw it up.

Steve: Ha! And you probably thought we were going to agree on everything.

Personally, I'm not convinced that UX is capturing that many people's attention these days. I think it's still floating somewhere between "notion" and "buzzword." It might be a useful term for marketing purposes, in that it might be easier for some people to understand than, say, Information Architecture. But if we add a new umbrella for us all to stand under, then won't we need a User Experience Professionals Association, with its own magazine and conference and everything? Who has the time?

I don't think I've even ever actually used the phrase "user experience" with any of my clients; I'm just a usability consultant. I'm like the guy who just does tires. I may stray into rims and balancing and occasionally tackle a frozen lug nut if it's not too complicated, but mostly I just stick to what I know: tires. (Uh, usability)

WR: Isn't UX just new jargon to repackage what you've been doing all along in IA and usability?

Lou: Not really. UX encompasses those areas. And it's only jargon if you try to market UX as some sort of silver bullet to unwitting clients. I see UX more as a useful concept that could benefit various design practitioners. Put another way, in five years I'd prefer to see myself at a conference with UX colleagues, rather than shaking the trees for some "UX biz."

Steve: Belonging to a UX community, maybe, But can you ever see you calling yourself a User Experience Consultant? It does strike me as mostly just a repackaging and bundling of a lot of things that people have been doing for quite a while.

WR: What's it like to be a UX consultant? UX seems so broad; do you find that clients expect your knowledge to be deep in all UX- related areas?

Lou: It's not clear yet, as very little selling of UX is taking place, and, as I noted earlier, I'm not sure there should be. Besides, I already find IA broad enough to tax my knowledge and abilities.

Steve: To me, the problem with UX is that it encompasses all those areas: design, packaging, brand messaging, advertising, sales process, fulfillment, customer service, warranties, support, spare parts, and on and on. When I'm working on a product, I usually try to experience as many of those as I can, because my job as a usability consultant is in large part to act as a user surrogate and user advocate. But I'm no expert at branding, advertising, fulfillment, etc. They're all pretty complicated specialties, and it's easy to get in over your head unless you have some real experience. (I think there are a few people who can pull it off well, but that's very different from saying we should all adopt the UX label.)

And that's not to say that it wouldn't be nice for every project to have a User Experience Tsar, somebody who was responsible for making sure that the entire user experience was consistently good. But is that someone with expertise in all of those areas (and usability and information architecture)?

Lou: Right, no individual can truly be a UX expert, but that's why we need UX teams.

WR: Is it as strange as being on a speaking tour together? Somehow I didn't picture you guys as a couple. How did this come about?

Lou: Well, I'll admit that I have plenty of trepidation, because Steve seems like the kind of guy who snores.

Steve: How did you know? It's true, as Melanie can tell you. But my real drawback as a roommate would be the fact that I tend to stay up all night watching old movies and infomercials. And since I suspect that Lou is fairly neat, I think we'd have the potential for a real Felix/Oscar thing. (I'd rather think of us as more like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the old Road movies, like The Road to Morocco (" Web- ster's Dic- tion- ary, we're Moroc- co bounnnddddd.")

Lou: Nocturnal concerns aside, we've always enjoyed each other's work, so this seemed like a natural fit. (And I confess that I am very neat.)

Steve: Yes, until my own book came out, I always told my clients that Peter and Lou's book was the one book they absolutely had to read. I've been trying to find us a project to work on together for years, but the timing has never worked out. Personally, I'm really looking forward to going to Lou's workshop myself and learning his strategies and tricks for dealing with thorny organizational politics.

Lou: Partnering on these seminars also provides us with not one but three opportunities (DC, LA, and Chicago) to engage in enlightened discourse, mutual support, mutual learning, and finally, mutual plagiarism. Honestly, my goal is to rip off as many of Steve's jokes as I can get away with. In fact, my new business cards list me as a "Rocket Surgeon."

Steve: Yeah, well be careful with that one. I've had people write to me and say, "But, isn't it 'It's not brain surgery'?" and an equal number who wrote, "But, isn't it 'It's not rocket science'?" so clearly not everyone "got it." Just proves that everything can benefit from some usability testing, even jokes.

Lou: Don't I know it? You wouldn't believe how many people missed the humor in the photo on my seminar's web page (

WR: And finally, what's the best part of a speaking tour? The groupies, the endless admiring fans, or the delicious hotel chicken lunches?

Steve: Well, I don't know about the first two, but there's not going to be any hotel chicken. When Lou and I decided to synch up our workshop tours, I made him agree to two things: One, everybody goes out for lunch. (Who wants to pay an extra $40 for some hotel chicken? Get out, see the world, and clear your head for the afternoon. And personally I hate figuring out which table to sit at: it always makes me feel like I'm back in high school.) And two, no hotel conference rooms. We're doing them in theaters, because I can't think of anything less conducive to learning than sitting in one of those hotel banquet room chairs all day. (It took Lou a while to realize that I'm a control freak, but he's been very nice about it.)

I think the best part of doing workshops for me is that I really do feel like I can convey an awful lot of what I know about usability in the course of a day. (No wisecracks, Lou.) I really enjoy teaching, and particularly answering people's questions. And it's even better than consulting, because there's no homework at the end of the day. When the workshop is over, you're really done.

Lou: ...which is only partially true; after my seminars are done, Steve and I will be leading the attendees to a happy hour to wash away our usability and IA sins. And maybe our UX pretenses too.

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About the Interviewees: Lou Rosenfeld is co-author of the best- selling book "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web," 2nd ed. from O'Reilly, and a noted information architecture expert. Steve Krug is the author of the best-selling book "Don't Make Me Think!" from New Riders, and an expert usability consultant. You can find them at and or on their own U.S. tour. The next pair of seminars takes place in Washington, DC on April 30 and May 1. For more information on locations and schedules see: and

That's it for this Thursday, see you next time.

Andy King
Newsletter Editor,
aking at jupitermedia dot com

Created: April 10, 2003
Revised: April 10, 2003