How I Made $200 Writing a Blog Post

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Ok, before you go on reading thinking someone paid me $200 to WRITE a blog post, let me be clear. That wasn’t the case. I wrote a blog post for an online contest and won 1st prize which was $200 worth of UX (User Experience) books. However, I had to get your attention somehow so this sensational title was worth a shot. Anyways, it’s a great story so I thought I would tell it.

I blog on both my personal blog (here) and the Roundarch (my employer) blog. One of the usability blogs I follow was running a contest. I’m a student of usability and have read a couple books on the subject but I was hungry for more. This was a great opportunity for me to get in on some books without having to pay for them provided I won. All you had to do was write a blog post on “why you love usability and want to jump-start your usability training”. I thought to myself, that’s pretty easy. I can write a blog post. I write blog posts anyways.

For the last month, I’ve been pretty slammed at work, so you probably noticed tumbleweeds and cobwebs on my blog. The blog at work was also suffering a similar fate and needed remedying. So I thought, why don’t I kill 2 birds with one stone and blog about usability on the Roundarch blog. It would give others an idea of the importance we as a company place on usability (because we do), and I would have a blog post to submit for the contest. (And if by chance I won, I’d have a great blog post for my own blog in the form of this story I’m telling you right now). Mind you, I wasn’t expecting to win.

You can read the blog post and judge for yourself. I don’t personally think it’s award winning material by any means but if you looked at the competition, a lot of it was pretty half-assed. Like Woody Allen says:

80% of success is just showing up

I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that I was being lazy. I killed 2 birds with one stone by writing a blog post on usability on the Roundarch blog so that I could have a blog post there AND have an entry to the competition. As luck would have it I won.

Here are the books I won:

I’ve read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Don’t Make Me Think, and Tipping Point. The person running the contest, a guy by the name of Peter Meyers, was gracious enough to let me swap out the books I already had for other usability books. I’ll give him a shameless plug. You should read his blog if you are interested in usability and UX.

So the point of this entire blog post is this: There are tons of small little contests and competitions like these all over the internet with prizes waiting to be claimed. You just have to seek them out and give it a shot. This one particular contest had 20 entries. That means you had 1 in 20 chances of winning. Why not? Anyways, if anyone did decide to listen to this tidbit of advice and actually wins something on the web down the line, please give me a shout out on this blog post and tell me your story.

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TEDTalks 2006: David Pogue – Simplicity Sells

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I’m a big fan of TED and would love to attend one of these conferences one day, but the cost is so prohibitive that I will just have to enjoy them through YouTube for the foreseeable future. One such talk that I only recently saw is this hilarious one given by David Pogue, a technology writer, journalist and commentator who spent ten years working in New York as a Broadway musical conductor, arranger, and keyboard player.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

Check out his talk on the frustrations of modern technology – you’ll love it.

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Conversations with Steve Krug, Author of “Don’t Make Me Think”

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Tonight, I had the great pleasure of meeting Steve Krug, one of today’s leading experts on web usability design and author of the famous book “Don’t Make Me Think.” I’ve actually read this book about 3 years ago on a plane ride. It was a very quick read of about 100 pages, but very very easy to digest, practical and applicable. My background is development and being a typical developer at the time, I was very much an engineer who built software for other engineers. Of course this always leads to software and applications that ordinary people hate because it’s hard to use and not intuitive. Anyways, his book opened my eyes to the world of user-centric design methodology. This wasn’t design mumbo jumbo in the creative sense. This was design in the sense of “make something easy to use, easy to learn, and hard to screw up.” His book made it easy for developers to understand how *good* designers applied basic understanding of users to create user interfaces (UI) that made sense.

Anywho, I was able to meet Steve Krug because RoundArch hosted a happy hour for Steve Krug and Lou Rosenfeld *who I did not get to meet :( * because they were in town for some usability workshops. Steve was always swamped it seemed and I finally got a chance to go up to him and introduce myself towards the end of the night. I told him I loved his book, and he mentioned he had another one coming out at the end of this year about doing user testing.

I asked him if there was one thing that he could tell people to educate them on usability what would it be? He said “watch users.” He said you’d be amazed at what you can learn and garner from the simple act of watching how your users interact with your software without you intervening. He’s made CEOs sit down and watch users fumble through bad websites to show them how little they know about their users. Often times too, a simple change such as placement or color can have a huge impact on the usability of a website.

Ever since I’ve read his book, I often test my web applications with non technical people. I just let them drive. Lately, my guinea pig has been my wife. She’s super smart but she’s not technical, although that’s slowly changing. Anyways, I put the computer in front of her and let her figure it out. She’ll say, “but I’m not technical, I won’t get it.” to which I reply, “if you had to be technical then I’ve failed.” So she’s a quick and easy litmus test for me when I make stuff. It’s the same principle as designing a car. It should be easy enough for the average person to learn how to drive. If I had to know the inner workings of the car in order to drive it, that’s a bad car design.

Anyways, I highly recommend his book, especially to developers because you’ll see things differently. You’ll be able to empathize not only with designers more but also your users. And when you create software that users love, that’s a very rewarding feeling.

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