Review: “The Big Red Fez” By Seth Godin

Seth Godin’s “The Big Red Fez” is to Internet marketing what Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” is to web usability. They’re both thin books written in a glib style that allows the authors to cover a lot of ground without delving too deep. It would be easy to dismiss both as lightweight if the advice were not generally so sound.

You’re a web monkey!

The central premise of Godin’s book is that a web site should be designed as if the typical visitors were a performing monkey (in a big red fez, if you need that detail to complete the imagery). He doesn’t seem to mean this disrespectfully, rather he means that we just aren’t very clever “because we’re busy, or we’re distracted, or we’ve never been to a particular site before and we’re not mind readers.” His mission is to make web designers present one obvious “banana” per page to their visiting web monkeys.

Where’s the banana?

Where Krug’s catch-cry is “Don’t Make Me Think”, Godin’s is “Where’s the banana?”. He proceeds to present a series of examples of both good and bad use of the “banana” in web site design. Each example includes a screen grab of the page in question with a short commentary on the facing page.

Most of the advice is good usability from a marketing angle: don’t lead your customers down a blind alley, make it obvious where the customer goes to buy stuff, make things easy for the customer (rather than your programmers), and so on. I particularly liked his suggestion of making more use of the 404 error page - if someone has landed on an error page, they are practically begging to be given a useful link to somewhere, anywhere.

In the second half of the book, Godin gives over several examples to email marketing, newsletters, and spam. This theme strikes me as less relevant to improving web sites - it’s not advice that will help “make any web site better”. But I guess it doesn’t seem too out of place in the context of online marketing.

The verdict?

Yes, it’s shallow.
Yes, it’s slick and glib.
Yes, it’s opinionated.
Yes, it’s good advice. “The Big Red Fez” isn’t a detailed thesis on web marketing, it’s a quick guide with plenty of practical suggestions for improving web site design.

The Big Red Fez - How to make any web site better.
Seth Godin.
Copyright © 2001 Do You Zoom, Inc. Simon & Schuster.
ISBN: 0-7432-2790-5.