UX Book Club – Don’t Make Me Think

Originally published in 2000, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is a user experience (UX) design classic and an essential read.  Krug notes that he wrote the book for “the people in the trenches” in web/software design including designers, developers, site producers, project managers, marketers, and the people who sign the checks.  The main focus here is to discover how to best design websites and software for the user with the simple principle of not making the users think.

Steve Krug lays out some Laws of Usability, the first being: Don’t Make Me Think.  He notes that web sites should be self-evident, obvious, and self-explanatory.  When the user first uses a web site or software, their internal thoughts should not be questions (such as: Where do I begin? What is the purpose? Can I click that?) but rather statements of understanding (such as: There is the navigation. This is how I register. That is where I search.) Usability is defined as making sure that something works well and that a person of average ability and experience can use it for its intended purpose without getting frustrated.

Although some examples may seem dated (new editions of the book have since been released) the principles are very much still valid since a lot of user experience comes down to the psychology of humans and how we think as opposed to very specific technologies.  One of the more important things to grasp is that people don’t read websites, they scan.  Steve Krug tells us to imagine users viewing the website as a billboard as they drive by at 60 mph.  Design becomes very important at this point to make sure that users understand what they are looking at and can find relevant information quickly.  Some basic principles include creating a clear visual hierarchy, taking advantage of conventions, minimizing noise, and making it obvious what’s clickable.

Another important lesson to draw from this reading is that people are not fully rational and don’t make the most logical decisions.  Instead we “satisfice” meaning that we often choose the first reasonable option as opposed to the best option.  While this happens in everyday life, it is amplified on the web.  As soon as we find a link that seems like what we’re looking for, we click it.  But why?  People are generally in a hurry on websites and there is not much of a penalty for guessing wrong on the web.  Users can very quickly hit the back button and try again.  This behavior is also more fun since there is a slight element of chance and surprise that it works out, and if it does, it turns out to be faster.  Weighing options about which links to click takes time and it may not actually improve our chance of being correct.

Steve Krug’s effort to direct this book to everyone involved in the production of websites and software works well as he is able to get into the mind of each person involved in the process.  Debates often occur about what the users will like on a website and each person involved has their own strong opinions.  Designers tend to think users like sites that are visually interesting because they like sites that are visually interesting.  Likewise, developers tend to think people like sites with a lot of cool features.  Meanwhile, upper management and marketers are focused on making whatever will bring in more users and money.  In the end, Krug points out that debates should not occur about what people like or don’t like, but rather if feature and design choices will all make sense and make the user experience for the target audience better.

Producing a website or software is a team effort and it’s important for team members to understand each other during the process.  However, the end result should be a user-centric (or customer-centric) approach.  The companies that use this knowledge will be the ones that have an edge over their competitors.  Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is helpful reading for everyone involved in the process to get everyone on the same page and make sure there is a unified vision going into future projects.  The book is also short enough to be read on a long plane ride.  Krug says the reasoning behind this is that if it’s short, people are more likely to use the knowledge presented.

So no matter what role you play in the process of web development, Don’t Make Me Think is a great book to read to gain insights on how to make the best user experience possible.

Craig Zdanowicz

Written by Craig Zdanowicz

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