Book Review: Don’t Make Me Think

dontmakemethink“Don’t make me think.”

People often say that when asked to choose, but I’ve found this phrase to also apply to designing websites. The less a visitor has to think, the less he has to click. The easier a site is to navigate, the more likely that person will be to stay, read or buy.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a book that confirmed what I already knew.

Don’t Make Me Think is a real gem among gems. If you’ve ever wanted to know what makes a good site great – and in easy-to-understand language – then Steve Krug’s book is for you.

Billboard Mentality

The book is small, with only 197 pages between the covers, but don’t let size fool you. Krug kept his book small for a reason.

You see, Krug’s book drives home repeatedly that people browsing the web don’t read; they scan and skim. That’s important for content writers, but it’s even more important for web designers.

Krug compares websites to highway billboards. Billboards are designed in a way that their messages can be read and absorbed in seconds as people whizz by in their cars. Having worked in the sign industry designing many billboards, I appreciated the analogy.

Krug made a point of keeping his book small and simple so that people could read it quickly. As he states, “If it’s short, it’s more likely to be used.”

Use it I did. I finished the book in less than two hours.

It’s Not Rocket Surgery

“It’s not rocket surgery” is Steve’s corporate motto, and it sums the book up nicely. Common sense like that is irresistible. I read the words and knew I had a winner in my hands.

Don’t Make Me Think conveys that anyone can create a well-designed site. The book is full of advice based on common sense information, teaching the basic principles behind usability.

Krug says:

“After all, usability really just means making sure that something works well: that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can use the thing – whether it’s a Web site, a fighter jet, or a revolving door – for it’s intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.”

Of course, Krug’s book doesn’t discuss selecting the right images or writing snippets of code. Technical skills are something completely apart. For that type of guidance, seek another book.

So what will you find in this book? Here are a few highlights:

  • Street Signs and Breadcrumbs. You may not realize it, but navigation is the heart and soul of any website. Without good navigation guiding people, a site is just a bunch of pretty words and images. Krug uses the analogy of searching for an item in a hardware store to illustrate his point, and it’s easy to see how frustrating visitors find it when faced with poor navigation.
  • Conventions and Expectations. No, this doesn’t mean ComicCon or Blog Expo. Conventions are universal symbols or methods that are easily recognizable to all. For example, a big red sign usually means stop no matter what country you live in. The same goes for websites. We have expectations on where the banner should be and where navigation bars should be found. We know to read the big block of content in the largest column. Krug uses the example of a web page in Japanese to demonstrate that you could look at the page and still know where everything is, even if you can’t read the language.
  • Be Clear, Never Clever. Let’s call a spade a spade, folks. The book says if you have a site that lists jobs, use the title “Jobs”. Don’t call the list “Job-O-Rama” or some other quirky name. The more time a visitor spends puzzling out what words mean, the more likely they’ll be to say, “Forget it,” and move on.
  • Obviously Clickable. Ever visit a website only to spend a few seconds trying to find a live link by hovering the cursor over an image or phrase? Ever miss clicking on an image because you didn’t realize that action would make something happen? Sometimes where to click isn’t obvious. We expect images and underlined or highlighted text to light up, change color or make the cursor change from an arrow to a pointing hand. Even a simple “click here” message helps people navigate.
  • Why Your Website Should Be a Mensch. “Mensch” is the Yiddish word for a stand-up guy. When applied to your website, the word means your site should be as user-friendly as possible. A good experience on a website means you’ll stay, browse or shop, and it also means you’ll return if you need those products or services later on.

Long-Lasting Benefits

If you haven’t changed the way you look at websites after getting your website evaluation, then read this book. It reinforces everything we’ve said.

Once you learn how to really look at a site, your new knowledge will reflect your new perspective in every site you create or design. Even if you can’t create a site, you’ll at least be able to communicate better with the people who are designing it.

You’ll spot what works. You’ll come to understand that sometimes personal preference doesn’t always equal reader usability. And you’ll know why elements do or don’t work.

What’s your experience with sites? What’s your usability pet peeve? Ever been to a site that drives you nuts? Which types of site layouts really help you stick around?

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