Book cover: Don't Make Me Think!Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

By Steve Krug

This book is a quick read.  The author says he worked for that, looking for something that could be covered in a long plane ride.  I bought it in New Orleans , and two short rides and a long layover later, I was back in Nashville and writing this note.

This book is expensive.  $35.  ($24.95 if you go here, and the author gets a commission!)

This book is valuable.  I’m working on projects right now where I will put its lessons, especially the “testing on the cheap” outline in chapters 9 and 10 to work immediately.

Mr. Krug’s experience is directed toward web sites where users “do something,” although, as he says, the insights can also be applied to those that are mostly about publishing information.  (And, yes, I will apply the principles to this site, real soon now …!)  The fundamental principle, as expressed in the title, is to make the purpose of the site and the steps to accomplishing important tasks completely obvious.  Failing that, at least make them self-explanatory.

The author suggests that most of us see web sites like bill boards at 60 mph:  quick glimpses of the highlights as we zoom by.  On the other hand, those who develop web sites often view them as literature or works of art:  to be read with some care.  Therein lies a problem.  The graphic on p. 23 of “What designers build …” and “What users see…” captures the essence wonderfully.  The designer’s screen is sharp and clear.  The user’s side has two screen shots, each with just three elements in clear focus:  the name of the site on both, then two elements determined by what the user’s purpose is in visiting the site.

Second, “satisficing”, a/k/a/ “good enough” is the order of the day for most of us in most things.  We find a way to do something and, if it is good enough, we don’t invest time in looking for improvements.  As with scanning instead of reading, this makes for less than careful study of the options and text on a web site.

Almost as a sub-point of satisficing, we muddle through rather than figuring out how things work.  Does anyone really use all the settings on their dishwasher, washing machine, or any other appliance?

So, what’s the best response from a web design team?

Create a clear visual hierarchy:

  • prominence
  • grouping
  • nesting

Follow conventions (unless you’ve got a good reason not to)

  • Clearly defined areas
    • Site ID top and left
      • With tagline close by (value proposition)
    • Page name
    • Sections
    • Local Navigation
    • “You are here” indicator(s)
      • graphic
      • indicators (highlight and bullet slections)
      • breadcrumbs
        • Home> Hobbies> Book Collecting> Welcome
    • Search
  • Consitent Navigation
    • Tabs are good!
    • But do them right!
    • See, amazon.com
    • Home

The “home page” is a special problem because everyone wants a piece.  Do the best you can with the compromises.

USABILITY TESTING!

Test early, test often.  It’s an iterative process of design, prototype, test, analyze, design, prototype, test ….

Three users or less will do, and need not be too carefully selected from your “target” group (unless, of course, that’s easy to do).  Even when you can focus on target group, go outside it.  You can never be sure ALL members of group will COMPLETELY share a COMMON knowledge base.

Start testing in the planning stage by testing competitor’s sites.  Then test rough sketches, page designs, prototypes, the first usable version, and run new pages by the person in the next cubicle, at least. 

Set up

A computer (or the paper design), the user, a facilitator, and a videocamera, with a monitor in a nearby room for other team members to watch.  See www.circlebooks.com/krugbook for a script for a testing session and a sample release form.

Again, chapters 9 and 10 are worth the price of the book if you’ve never been exposed to this kind of thing before.