Book cover art for Don't Make Me Think
Don't Make Me Think
Steve Krug

A useful, practical and well-written introduction to web usability and testing in particular. While some elements feel a little dated (this edition was published in 2013 and the mobile usability chapter is not that useful), the core concepts remain just as valid today as they did before. Perhaps this is because, while the internet changes all the time, people don't. Well worth a read for the chapter on usability testing alone.

No, Really. Try Not to Make Anyone Think!

What do you think the questions are, in the heads of users, when they're looking at your site?

Your job is to answer them.

If you can't make things self-evident, at least make them self-explanatory.

How We Really Use the Web

We don't really read pages. We scan them:

  • People are on a mission. No time.
  • There's no need to read, really - scanning does just as well
  • We're good at it and can pick up all we need, quickly

We 'satisfice' or, that is, we make choices that are simply good enough:

  • There's no penalty
  • We've no time
  • It's fun
  • A bigger effort doesn't really help

We're muddling through, anyway. Who needs a manual?! Does it work or not? These are low stakes.

'On the Internet, the competition is always just one click away, so if you frustrate users they'll head somewhere else.'

Design for Scanning, Not Reading

Don't try to reinvent the wheel—conventions help people know where to look and what to do while they're in automatic mode.

'If your audience is going to act like you're designing billboards, then design great billboards.'

Clarity > Consistency

'If you can make something significantly clearer by making it slightly inconsistent, choose in favor of clarity.'

Good visual hierarchies help us parse content quickly. We want to keep the noise down by breaking pages into clear areas or sections.

We also want to make liberal use of headlines and properly formatted text to support scanning. Shorter paragraphs and bullet points do well.

Users Like Mindless Choices

How ambiguous are you making links? Do things just make sense when you look at them?

'In general, I think it's safe to say that users don't mind a lot of clicks as long as each click is painless and they have continued confidence that they're on the right track, following what's often called the "scent of information."'

If you need to give guidance on how to use any part of your site, make sure it it brief, timely and unavoidable.

Omit Words As Much as Possible

Fewer words means less noise, it means its easier to read and therefore more useful (and usable).

A culprit of this is 'happy talk', a sort of nonsense light conversation that nobody needs, wittering away at the top.

Another is useless and bloated instructions for straightforward tasks. Nobody reads them.

Designing Good Navigation

Users tend to be either search dominant or link dominant. (Although, in later years, I think this has now moved towards sites that are more search dominant or link dominant.)

For those that are link dominant, having good navigation is important. Websites have no sense of scale, direction or location. Navigation is the only thing that delivers this to the user.

'People won't use your web site if they can't find their way around it.'

Web navigation is the website, so it better be good. It tells us:

  • What's here
  • How to use the site
  • Gives confidence in the people that built the site (it makes a good first impression, and a good ongoing one too)

Page names and breadcrumbs help us to locate ourselves and give context for where we are.

Page names need to match the links we click (in nav, anyway). Otherwise we can feel somewhat cheated.

It's always helpful to highlight the current location, and highlight where we've been (links that show up a different colour).

The Big Bang Theory of Web Design

Users have 4 big questions on arrival to a homepage:

  1. What is this?
  2. What can I do here?
  3. What do they have here?
  4. Why should I be here and not somewhere else?

The first seconds are critical. Make sure there's a message on your homepage:

  • Use as much space as you need
  • But no more than necessary
  • NO mission statements or other guff like that

Taglines under logos can be handy for communicating things (but this is a style that is far out of fashion, now).

Don't kill your golden goose by overstuffing your homepage.

DIY Usability Testing

Usability tests are not focus groups. At all. Focus groups ask questions to 5-10 people in an open-ended fashion. Usability tests focus on observing the actions taken by 1 person at a time.

One early, mediocre test is better than 50 done right at the end. Here's how you should aim to do it, though:

  • Once every few weeks
  • 2-3 people, recruited loosely—don't need to be your users
  • 3 hours/a morning
  • Identify most serious issues and commit to fixing before next round
  • Focus on the most serious issues only

You're not gathering data to try and prove anything, you're getting pointers at what you need to improve the big things.

'Even the worst test with the wrong user will show you important things you can do to improve your site.'

How to run a usability test:

  • Welcome them, tell then what's going to happen and how the test works
  • Get them to take a tour of the homepage and look around, telling you what they think and walking you through their thoughts as they have them
  • Get them to run certain tasks, maybe 2-3, thinking out loud as they go. You might ask them to sign up for a newsletter, or find out who works at the company, discover how the platform works etc etc.
  • Don't guide them or nudge them, simply observe. If they are not forthcoming with information, you can ask them 'what they're thinking' as you go.
  • At the end, ask any probing follow-up questions you might have.
  • Finish by wrapping up and thanking them.

Immediately meet with your team to agree the top problems to fix off the back of the test, then set to work on fixing them.

More of this, but in your inbox.

I write a newsletter about the internet. It's called Internet Connection. There's a few hundred of us that fall down the rabbit hole every other week. Want to come along for the ride? Drop your email below.

Let me read it first