Don’t Make Me Think

A few people recommended Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, and I was able to get it on inter-library loan. The title gets at the fundamental message of the book – if your website is designed properly, your users won’t have to think much. This isn’t an insult to users; in fact, it acknowledges that they have more valuable ways to spend time and mental energy than trying to figure out how to use your website.

Here are some ways to deliver a ‘don’t make me think’ experience:

Design for scanning. Users don’t read, they scan. When they see something they like, they click on it. To make make this process as smooth as possible, create a clear visual hierarchy and nest text to show what belongs to what. Stick with convention unless you have very good reason not to. Avoid visual clutter and never make a user guess what is clickable.

Offer mindless choices. It’s a common misconception that users must be able to get to desired content in X (very few!) steps. In reality, users don’t mind clicking through more pages if you make it easy and obvious that they’re on the right track. This spares you from having to make everything accessible from any page in X steps, a big clutter reducer.

Write for the web. Again, users don’t read. Krug recommends getting rid of half the words, then half of what’s left. Rather than explaining or giving instructions, design so that the process is self-evident.

Orient with navigation. Your navigation orients your users, both the browsers (they click around) and the searchers (they go straight for the search box). If done well, it tells them where they are and how to use the site, and increases their confidence using the site. This orientation is most effective with what Krug calls ‘persistent navigation’, which means that the same navigation layout and options appear on every page. This way, users always know where they are and how to get back to where they’ve been.

Name every page. On a related topic, every page should have a name that frames the content and matches what users clicked on to get there. Don’t rely on breadcrums to do the job or orienting your users. From any page on your site, users should be able to easily answer the following questions:

  • What site is it?
  • What page am I on?
  • What major sections does this site have?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • Where am I in relation to the rest of the site?
  • Where can I go to search?

Test your assumptions. If you want to create ‘don’t make me think’ experiences, you must test your assumptions about your site design. The only way to do that is to show your design to people not involved in designing it. User testing doesn’t require expensive lab equipment or expert test administrators. In fact, Krug advocates keeping it cheap and easy, so that it’s more likely to happen. Any testing is better than no testing – you will always be surprised by something you thought was obvious that actually makes your users think too hard.

Have you done user testing lately? What did you learn?

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