Don't Make Me Think

Don't Make Me Think

Author
Steve Krug
Year
2000
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Review

The web has evolved significantly since this book was published; but for the most part the principles outlined will remain timeless. The principles are mostly common sense, but the author states them concisely and clearly. The practical recommendations for usability testing are spot. Start early. Doing more rounds is going to be more impactful than iterviewing more participants.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • Usability is ensuring that something works well.
  • Pay attention to usability, and you'll reduce the frustration of your users and increase their satisfaction. You'll be more likely to see them again.
  • "Don't make me think" should be the overriding principle of web design.
  • A web page should be self-evident, self-explanatory, and obvious.
  • Users should be able to 'get it' instantly. That means understanding what it is and how to use it without expending any effort thinking about it.
  • You should eliminate question marks. Each question mark makes us think, adds to our cognitive workload, and distracts our attention from the task at hand.
    • Where should I start?
    • Can I click on that?
    • Why did they call it that?
    • Why did they put that there?
    • Where am I?
    • Is that the navigation?
    • What are the most important things on this page?
  • There’s a continuum from ‘obvious to everybody’ to ‘truly obscure’. It’s almost always a good idea to skew toward obvious.
  • People don’t like to puzzle over how to do things. If you don’t care enough to make things obvious and easy, you’ll erode confidence and sap enthusiasm.
  • People don’t look at web pages for long, designs need to be effective at a glance.
    • Each page should be self-evident. Users should know what it is and how to use it.
    • Can’t make a page self-evident? At least make it self-explanatory.
  • People don't read websites the way we think. They glance at a page, scan some text, and click on the first link that resembles what they're looking for.
  • We often choose the first reasonable option, not the best option. We click the first link that might work.
  • There's not a big penalty for guessing wrong.
  • We don't figure out how things work. We muddle through.
  • If your audience is going to act like you're designing billboards, then design great billboards.
  • Help your users see and understand as much of your site as possible.
  1. Create a clear visual hierarchy. All visual clues should clearly and accurately portray relationships between things. The more important something is, the more prominent it should be. Things that are logically related should also be visually related. Things should be nested to show what they're part of.
  2. Take advantage of conventions. Conventions are effective ideas that have been copied over time. Users move from site to site, and conventions help users figure out what to do quickly. Resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel. Innovate when you have a better idea, but take advantage of conventions when you don't.
  3. Break pages into clearly defined areas. Creating sections helps users decide what to focus on and what to ignore.
  4. Make it obvious what's clickable. Users are looking for what to click next, so make it clear what's clickable and what isn't.
  5. Minimise noise. Visual noise is the enemy, and there are two kinds: Busy-ness - It's overwhelming when everything is clamouring for your attention. Background noise - Lots of small background noise that adds up to visual clutter. Assume everything is visual noise until proven otherwise.
  • How many clicks it takes to reach something seems like a sensible measure. BUT the number of clicks doesn't matter, it's the amount of thought required and the level of uncertainty about the choice.
  • Users don't mind clicks if they're painless and they have confidence that they're on the right path. Jared Spool refers to this as 'the scent of information'.
  • Making choices mindless is one of the primary ways to enhance usability.
  • Omit needless words.
  • "A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."
  • Be ruthless about removing words. Removing words reduces noise and makes useful content more prominent.
  • Aim for clear, simple, and consistent navigation.
  • You're usually looking for something when you view a page. You decide whether to search or browse. If browsing, you make your way through a hierarchy until you eventually find what you're looking for.
  • Browsing is like moving around physical space. However, physical space has a clear sense of scale, direction, and location. Navigation serves two purposes: knowing where you are and knowing how to get from one place to the next. Using navigation conventions helps users locate them quickly and with minimum effort. Standardize the appearance of navigation and differentiate it from website content.
  • Every page should have either a search box or a link to a search page.
  • Give users a sense of place. Think "you are here."
  • Navigation is well-designed if, when dropped onto any page, you can answer the following questions:
    • What site you're on (site name)
    • What page you're on (page name)
    • What the major sections of the site are (sections)
    • What your options are (local navigation)
    • Where you are relative to everything else ("You are here" indicators)
    • Where you can search
  • The home page has a lot to do:
    • Site identity and mission
    • Site hierarchy
    • Search
    • Teasers (the best content and promotions)
    • Timely content (updated frequently)
    • Potential advertising / deal space
    • Shortcuts (e.g. frequently viewed)
    • Registration
  • The home page also has to meet these objectives:
    • Show me what I'm looking for
    • Show me where to start
    • Establish credibility and trust
  • Everyone from your company will want a piece of the home page
    • Too many people have opinions
    • There's no one-size-fits-all
  • Don't lose the big picture. It should be clear: Where to start a search, where to start browsing, and where to go to sample the best stuff.
  • Home pages seem to attract shortsighted behavior. Promoting things on the home page works too well → so there's a tendency to try and promote everything. There's a tragedy of the commons. The thing that's added benefits hugely, but the effectiveness of the homepage suffers.
    • Site identity and mission
    • Site hierarchy
    • Search
    • Teases (the best content and promotions)
    • Timely content (updated frequently)
    • Potential advertising / deal space
    • Shortcuts (e.g frequently viewed)
    • Registration
  • Most arguments about usability are a waste of time. Teams end up in endless discussions (almost religious debates), expressing strongly held beliefs that can't be proven. They rarely result in anyone changing their point of view; they create tension and erode respect among team members.
    • Instead, build a version of the thing and observe people using it. There's no substitute for testing. Debates drain time and energy. Testing defuses arguments and helps make decisions. Testing teaches us that users' reactions are varied and unpredictable.
  • Usability testing in a nutshell: To learn if your product is easy to use, you watch some people try to use it and note where they run into trouble. Then fix it and test again.
  • Don't do usability testing 2 weeks before launch; that's too little, too late. You must still have time to use what you learn. Test early and often in the web development process. You can start usability testing on comparable sites or competitor sites.
  • If you make testing big and scary, you won't get the most out of it. Keep testing simple, so you do enough of it. Testing one user early in the process is better than testing 50 at the end.
  • Testing always works.
  • Testing one person is 100% better than testing none.
  • The importance of recruiting representative users is overrated. Instead, recruit loosely and grade on a curve. Try to find users who reflect your audience, but don't get hung up on it.
    • Experts are rarely insulted by being presented with a product that's clear enough for beginners to use. You need to address novices as well as experts.
    • When recruiting, offer an incentive, keep the invitation simple, avoid discussing the site beforehand, and don't be embarrassed to ask people you know.
  • Use testing to inform your judgment, not to prove or disprove something.
  • Testing is iterative: make something, test it, fix it, test again. Doing many rounds of testing and fixing makes this process easier and lowers the stakes.
  • It's better to do more rounds of usability testing with fewer people. Test with 3-4 users per round. They'll encounter most of the problems. Then make some fixes and test again. It also reduces the size of the task and the number of notes, so you can complete it all in the same day.
  • You can find problems faster than you can fix them. So stay focused on the most serious issues.
  • Triage: decide which problems are important and need to be fixed. Ignore problems where the user recovers quickly and is not fazed by the issue. Take feature requests from users with a grain of salt. Focus on low-hanging fruit (big, inexpensive wins).
  • Problem solve: figure out how to fix them. Resist the impulse to add things (the best answer is often to remove something). Think carefully about what else is impacted by the changes you make.
  • Doing the right thing is an important part of usability.
  • Each problem we encounter on a website lowers our goodwill reservoir. The reservoir is limited, treat people badly and you'll exhaust it.
  • We should make our websites accessible because it is the right thing to do. Accessibility is one of the few times you'll be able to dramatically improve someone's life by doing your job a little better.
  • Things you can do right now: Fix the usability problems that confuse everyone. Read up on usability testing. Use CSS so you can serialise your text for screen readers and so users can resize text. Go for low-hanging fruit.
  • Do as much as you want to make your site look good, but only if it's not at the expense of making it work well.
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Introduction

  • Usability is making sure that something works well.
  • Although no average person exists… the average person should be able to use a thing for its intended purpose without getting frustrated.
If something requires a large investment of time, or looks like it will, it’s less likely to be used.
  • Pay attention to usability and you’ll reduce the frustration of your users and increase their satisfaction. You’ll be more likely to see them again.
  • If something is hard to use, people will use it less.

Chapter 1: Don’t make me think

Don’t make me think! Krug’s first law of usability
  • “Don’t make think” should be the overriding principle of web design.
  • A web page should be self-evident, self-explanatory and obvious.
  • Users should be able to ‘get it’ in an instant. That means understanding what it is and how to use it without expending any effort thinking about it.
  • You should be eliminating question marks. Each question mark makes us think, adds to our cognitive workload, and distracts our attention from the task at hand.
    • Where should I start?
    • Can I click on that?
    • Why did they call it that?
    • Why did they put that there?
    • Where am I?
    • Is that the navigation?
    • What are the most important things on this page?
  • There’s a continuum from ‘obvious to everybody’ to ‘truly obscure’. It’s almost always a good idea to skew toward obvious.
  • People don’t like to puzzle over how to do things. If you don’t care enough to make things obvious and easy, you’ll erode confidence and sap enthusiasm.
  • People don’t look at web pages for long, designs need to be effective at a glance.
    • Each page should be self-evident. Users should know what it is and how to use it.
    • Can’t make a page self-evident? At least make it self-explanatory.

Chapter 2: How we Really use the Web

  • People don’t websites how we think. They glance at a page, scan some text and click on the first link that resembles the thing they’re looking for. If it doesn’t pan out, they click back and try again. It’s like they’re driving past a billboard at 60mph.
  • How people use the web:
    • We don’t read pages, we scan them.
      • We’re in a hurry
      • We know we don’t need to read everything
    • We don’t make optimal choices, we satisfice.
      • We often choose the first reasonable option, not the best option. We click the first link that might work.
      • We’re in a hurry.
      • There’s not a big penalty for guessing wrong.
      • Bad design makes us more likely to guess, as it might be faster.
      • Guessing is more fun
    • We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.
      • People use things without understanding how they work.
      • It’s not important to us.
      • If we find something that works we stick to it
  • If people can and do muddle through, then why go through the trouble to create a super clear website?
    • You’ll help more people find what they’re looking for
    • You have a better chance of articulating the breadth of your offer
    • You’ll be able to better steer them where you want them to go
    • They’ll feel better about their experience
If your audience is going to act like you’re designing billboards, then design great billboards.

Chapter 3: Billboard Design 101

  • Help your users see and understand as much of your site as possible.
  1. Create a clear visual hierarchy
    • All visual clues should clearly and accurately portray relationships between things
      • The more important something is, the more prominent it should be
      • Things that are related logically, should be related visually
      • Things should be nested to show what they’re part of
  2. Take Advantage of conventions
    • Conventions are effective ideas that have been copied over time.
    • Users move from site to site, conventions help users figure out what to do quickly.
    • Resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel.
    • Innovate when you know you have a better idea, take advantage of conventions when you don’t.
  3. Break pages us into clearly defined areas
    • Creating sections helps users decide what to focus on and what to ignore.
  4. Make it obvious what’s clickable
    • Users are looking for what to click next, so make it obvious what’s clickable and what isn’t
  5. Minimise noise
    • Visual noise is the enemy, there are two kinds…
      • Busy-ness: It’s overwhelming when everything is clamoring for your attention.
      • Background noise: Lots of small background noise that add up to visual clutter.
    • Assume everything is visual noise until proven otherwise

Chapter 4: Animal, vegetable or mineral?

It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice. Krug’s second law of usability
  • How many clicks it takes to reach something seems like a sensible measure. BUT the number of clicks doesn’t matter, its the amount of thought required, and the amount of uncertainty about the choice.
    • Users don’t mind clicks, if they’re painless and they have confidence they’re on the right path. Jared Spool calls this ‘the scent of information’
  • Making choices mindless is one of the main ways to increase usability.

Chapter 5: Omit needless words

Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left. Krug’s third law of usability.
Omit Needless Words E.B. White’s 17th rule in Elements of Style
  • “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
  • Most words aren’t going to be read.
  • Just by being there, you feel like you might need to read them, which can make a page more daunting.
  • Be ruthless about removing words.
  • Removing words reduces noise and makes useful content more prominent
  • Remove ‘happy talk’, introductory text that can be replaced by ‘Blah blah blah’
    • It conveys no useful information
    • It focuses on saying how we’re great
    • Web users don’t have time for small talk
  • Nobody reads instructions:
    • They’ll muddle through many times first.
    • Eliminate instructions by making everything self-explanatory.
    • When instructions can’t be avoided, cut them back to the bare minimum

Chapter 6: Street signs and breadcrumbs

  • People won’t use your website if they can’t find their way around it
  • We’re aiming for clear, simple and consistent navigation
  • You’re usually looking for something when you view a page → you decide whether to search or browse → if browsing you make your way through a hierarchy → eventually you find what you’re looking for
  • Browsing is like moving around physical space. Physical space though has a clear sense of scale, direction and location.
    • If we want to return to something we need to remember where it is and retrace out steps
      • 30-40% of web clicks are the back button
    • The home page is the north star, a fixed place to start fresh missions.
  • Navigation is two things:
    • Knowing where you are
    • Knowing how to get from one place to the next
  • Navigation isn’t a feature of a website, it is the website.
  • Navigation also helps us learn what a site contains, a visual hierarchy tells us what the site contains.
  • Navigation tells us how to use the site, and helps build our confidence.
  • Using navigation conventions helps users locate them quickly, with minimum effort.
  • Standardise navigation appearance and differentiate it from website content
    • Some navigation elements should be persistent
      • Home page and forms are the exception.
  • Including a company name or logo on each page helps orientate the user on the web.
  • As a rule, persistent navigation can accommodate only 4-5 utilities.
  • A quick way to return to home is a good safety net
  • Every page should have either a search box, or a link to a search page.
  • Users spend as much time on lower level pages of your hierarchy as they do at the top.
    • Work out top-to-bottom navigation from the beginning
  • Every page needs a clear name, in a prominent place, that’s relevant to its content.
  • Give users a sense of place. Think ‘you are here’:
    • Breadcrumbs aren’t a good way to present most sites, they shouldn’t replace showing the top two levels of the hierarchy. They work best at the top.
    • Tabs are better. They are slick, hard to miss, suggest a physical space,
  • Navigation is well designed if dropped onto any page you can answer:
    • What site you’re on (site name)
    • What page you’re on (page name)
    • What are the major sections of the site (sections)
      • What your options are (local navigation)
      • Where are you relative to everything else (’You are here’ indicators)
      • Where you can search

Chapter 7: The first step in recovery is admitting that the Home page is beyond your control

  • The home page has a lot to do:
    • Site identity and mission
    • Site hierarchy
    • Search
    • Teases (the best content and promotions)
    • Timely content (updated frequently)
    • Potential advertising / deal space
    • Shortcuts (e.g frequently viewed)
    • Registration
  • The home page also has to meet these objectives :
    • Show me what I’m looking for
    • Show me where to start
    • Establish credibility and trust
  • Everyone from your company will want a piece of the home page
    • too many people have opinions
    • there’s no one -size fits all
  • Don’t lose the big picture (what is this? what do they have here?)
    • Use a tagline and short welcome blurb
    • Use as much space as necessary (but not more than you need)
    • Test it with users
    • A good tagline is clear, informative, short (6-8 words), conveys differentiation and a clear benefit, is personable, lively and clever.
    • If your brand is super strong, you might not need one.
  • It should be clear:
    • Where to start a search
    • Where to start browsing
    • Where to go to sample the best stuff
  • Home pages seem to attract shortsighted behaviour
    • Promoting things on the home page works too well → so there’s a tendency to try and promote everything
    • There’s a tragedy of the commons. The thing that’s added benefits hugely, but the effectiveness of the homepage suffers.

Chapter 8: The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends

  • Most arguments about usability are a waste of time.
  • Teams end up in endless discussions (almost religious debates) expressing strongly held beliefs that can’t be proven.
    • They rarely result in anyone changing their point of view, they create tension and erode respect among team members.
  • The key forces at play:
    • As we're all web users, we have strong opinions about what we like. It's hard to leave those feelings at the door.
    • Design, engineering and product often have different perspectives on what’s important. A struggle between art and commerce.
    • The ‘average user’ is a myth. There is no average users. Good web design isn’t about figuring out what people like.
      • There’s often not a right answer. Although there are things you should rarely do, and things that you should never do.
  • Building a version of the thing, and watching people use it is the antidote to endless debates.
    • There’s no substitute for testing.
    • Debates drain time and energy.
    • Testing defuses arguments and helps make decisions.
    • Testing teaches us that users reactions are varied and unpredictable.

Chapter 9: Usability Testing on 10 cents a day

  • Keep testing simple, so you do enough of it.
  • Why didn’t we do this sooner? What everyone says at some point during the first usability test of their website.
  • If you’re doing usability testing 2 weeks before launch, you’re likely doing too little, too late and for all the wrong reasons.
  • Don’t ever use focus groups for usability testing.
  • Facts about testing:
    • If you want a great product, you need to test. Not everyone thinks like you.
    • Testing one person is 100% better than testing none. Testing always works.
    • Testing one user early in the process is better than testing 50 at the end.
      • If you make testing big and scary you won’t get the most out of it
      • You must still have time to use what you learn
    • The importance of recruiting representative users is overrated. Instead recruit loosely and grade on a curve.
    • Use testing to inform your judgement, not to prove or disprove something.
    • Testing is iterative, make something, test it, fix it, test again.
    • Nothing beats a live audience reaction.
  • Usability testing in a nutshell: to learn if your product is easy to use, you watch some people try to use it and note where they run into trouble. Then fix it, and test again.
  • It’s better to do more rounds of usability testing with fewer people. Test with 3-4 users per round. They’ll hit most of the problems. Then make some fixes and test again.
    • It also reduces the size of the task and the number of notes.
    • You can complete it all in the same day.
  • You can find problems faster than you can fix them. So stay focused on the most serious issues.
  • Recruit loosely and grade on a curve. Try to find users who reflect your audience, but don’t get hung up on it.
    • Experts are rarely insulted by being presented with a product that’s clear enough for beginners to use
    • You need to address novices as well as experts
    • We’re all ‘experts’ under the skin.
  • When recruiting… offer an incentive, keep the invitation simple, avoid discussing the site beforehand, don’t be embarrassed to ask people you know.
  • Anyone can do the usability test, you just need the courage to try.
  • Test early and often in the web development process.
  • You can start usability testing on comparable sites or competitor sites
  • Two types of testing:
    • ‘Get it’ testing: show them the site, and see if they get it. Do they understand the purpose, value proposition, how it’s organised, how it works etc
    • Key task testing: give them a task to do, and see if they can do it.
      • Note users will do better when they get to pick the task, as they’re more invested
  • Cubicle testing … whenever you design something new, test it on a colleague next door and see if they can make sense of it.
  • Reviewing the results the right way:
    • Review observations as a group and decide what to do next.
    • Triage: decide which problems are important and need to be fixed.
      • Ignore problems where the user recovers quickly and they’re not fazed by the issue
      • Take feature requests from users with a pinch of salt
      • Focus on low hanging fruit (big cheap wins)
    • Problem solve: figure out how to fix them.
      • Resist the impulse to add things (the best answer is often to remove something)
      • Think carefully about what else is impacted by the changes you make
    • Doing many rounds of testing and fixing makes this process easier and lowers the stakes
  • Typical problems you’ll see:
    • Users don’t understand the context
    • The words they’re looking for aren’t there
      • You may be using different categories to what they’d expect or different words
    • There’s too much going on
      • Try reducing the overall noise, and make it more clear what they need to focus on
  • Spend at least one morning a month usability testing.
    • Test in the morning, discuss over lunch. No huge reports.
    • Keeping it short increases the chance that team members will come and get involved

Chapter 10: Usability as common courtesy

  • ‘Doing the right thing’ is an important part of usability.
  • Each problem we encounter on a website lowers our good will reservoir. The reservoir is limited, treat people badly and you’ll exhaust it.
    • Some people have a large reservoir some have a small one
    • The size of a person’s reservoir is situational.
    • You can refill the reservoir by doing things that look out for a users’ best interests
    • Sometimes a single mistake can empty it
  • Things to avoid:
    • Hiding information
    • Punishing people for not doing things in the right way (e.g. formatting)
    • Asking for information you don’t need
    • Being disingenuous
    • Putting ‘sizzle’ in the way (snazzy video intros)
    • Having an amateur look to the site
  • Things that increase good will:
    • Know what people want to do, and make them obvious and easy
    • Tell me what I want to know
    • Save the user steps wherever you can
    • Anticipate questions and answer them
    • Make it easy to recover from errors

Chapter 11: Accessibility, Cascading Style Sheets and you

  • Expect designers and engineers to be sceptical about accessibility:
    • It’s hard for them to believe a larger % of the population need help
    • It seems most accessibility work doesn’t benefit everyone, and actually might make things worse for others
  • The only real reason needed to do accessibility work is that it’s the right thing to do
  • Accessibility is one of the few times you’ll be able to dramatically improves some person’s life by doing your job a little better.
  • The two fears about doing accessibility work:
    • It’s a lot of extra work
    • It will compromise the design
  • Five things you can do right now:
    • Fix the usability problems that confuse everyone
    • Read this article ‘Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing users Who Work with screen readers’
    • Read a book:
      • Building accessible websites by Joe Clark
      • Constructing Accessible Websites by Jim Thatcher et al.
    • Start using cascading style sheets
      • They give you greater control of formatting
      • The give you flexibility
      • Consistency among browsers
      • And for accessibility…
        • You can serialise your text, so there’s a sequential order for screen readers
        • Allow for resizable text
    • Go for low hanging fruit:
      • Add appropriate alt text to every image
      • Make your forms work with screen readers
      • Create a skip to main content link at the beginning of each page
      • Make all content accessible to keyboard
      • Don’t use javascript without good reason

Chapter 12: Help! My boss wants me to ____.

  • On collecting data:
    • Three downsides to asking for more data than you need:
      • It can keep you from getting real data
      • You get fewer completed forms
      • It makes you look bad
    • So instead follow these guidelines:
      • Only ask for what you need
      • Don’t ask for optional information
      • Show the value exchange (what are users’ getting in return)
  • On adding too much sizzle
    • Do as much as you want to make your site look good, but only if it’s not at the expense of making it work well.

Recommended Reading:

  • Information Architecture · Rosenfeld and Morville
  • Why we Buy · Underhill
  • Sources of Power · Gary Klein
  • The Practice of Creativity · Prince, Macmillan
  • Jakob Nielsen (useit.com)
  • The Design of Everyday Things · Norman
  • A practical guide to usability testing · Dumas, Redish