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Usability Wisdom from Steve Krug's"Don't Make Me Think"

Written 17-Apr-2002

On Amazon


This book is one of the best usability books I've read, but it's a "bare bones" treatise: it deals solely with content-centric, public style, web sites. It supports many principles I've been hammering on for years (explicitness, no fluff, complete the code, etc.), and states in simple terms exactly what features every site should have.

First Law: Don't Make Me Think

  • Jobs or Joborama: Use the simplest. This is equivalent to my 1997 rule eliminate nicknames.
  • Make buttons look like buttons, use conventions that have been established.
  • Eliminate choices: on, they've eliminated the initial choice of how to search (by keyword, author, title). This is actually part of what I feel is a broader issue: complete the code! In other words, all of the systems that prompted the user to choose how to search were incomplete; the computer should have been searching through all three indexes from the very beginning.
  • Create a visual hierarchy. By this Krug means use the same visual conventions that newspapers have used for hundreds of years, such as having a headline span all of the columns to which it pertains. Computer equivalents now include bounding boxes, nesting, titles, tables, frames, etc.
  • Eliminate background noise, meaning extra graphical details. One example showed a menu list with horizontal separating lines that were better removed.
  • Eliminate "happy talk" such as mission statements that are not important and marketing hype that carries no real weight.
  • Cut the wording down ruthlessly. (Duh, what was the extra wording there for in the first place?)
  • Arrange the path of clicks for the easiest mindless clicks. Lots of web philosophizing is around the question of how many clicks is right. The consensus of pundits is in: it doesn't matter as long as each click feels right. Another pundit refers to the "scent" getting stronger with each click; if it does, the quantity doesn't matter.

Content Web Site "Must Haves"

The following things should pop out on every page:

    1. Site ID, name/logo
    2. Clear items that look like "Sections"
    3. Clear items that look like "Subsections"
    4. Local navigation (links within subsections).
    5. Clear items that look like "Utilities" (things that help you use the site such as Shopping Cart).
    6. Search, in the upper right, with a box and button saying "Search."
    7. You are here indicator to the Section/Subsection.
    8. Breadcrumb navigation links with these exact conventions: "You are here > Section > Subsection > page".

Home Page Conventions

  1. Tagline: a short clause telling what the site's about: "The Best Bookstore on the Web."
  2. Welcome blurb: a sentence or two telling who, what, why. NOT a mission statement.
  3. Avoid dropdowns for navigation.

Other Stuff

  1. Avoid rollovers; they're a poor convention for adding information.
  2. Use tabs for organization. (Other complaints about tabs are not usually related to their organizing power, which is what Steve likes.)
  3. When usability arguments don't have any objective basis, stop arguing and do user testing.
  4. Test cheap. Don't listen to those who say you need a laboratory.

"My interest in usability arose from the pain and tears of patching the wounds of suffering interface designs with the inadequate bandages of help files and user guides." — Daniel Cohen
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