If you’re going on holiday this year, buy this book and take it with you to read on the flight

don't make me think: steve krug shots of book pagesDon’t Make Me Think is a book I had on my Amazon Wish List for months but somehow never got around to reading. Until that is I went to see a prospective client. I did a quick review of his website with him, talking through what was good and what could be improved. At the end he asked me:

“Have you read Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, a lot of what you’re saying is in line with what he says in his book?”

I rather embarrassingly had to admit that I hadn’t and he said I should go home and order it right away. So I did. As an aside I often read books that my clients mention as it gives me valuable insights into the sorts of things they/you are into!  The rest is history really, I read the book and have been living by its principles ever since – in fact it’s looking pretty dog-eared these days. A lot of what Krug talks about is common sense stuff that I’d always known but he gave me the reasons why, so it was no longer just my gut feelings I was working with.

I should probably mention that Steve Krug is a highly respected usability consultant and has spent nearly 20 years working with companies like Apple, Netscape, AOL, Lexus and Barnes & Noble to make their software and web sites easier to use.

The full title of the book is Don’t Make Me Think; A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. I recommend that anyone who designs, builds, publishes, markets or pays the bills for a web site should read this book. In fact I’d say it was essential reading. It’s very easy to read and understand and is designed so it can be read on a long plane journey; 12 chapters and 185 pages. The layout is clear and uncluttered with plenty of images to illustrate the points Krug makes.

The book’s purpose is to help anyone who can’t afford a usability consultant to review their own work. Krug’s definition of usability is:

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 its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.

How does usability help you and why should you be interested?

How this helps you is that if your web site is usable then your visitors experience less frustration and more satisfaction. That means you stand a better chance of seeing them again. Krug’s wife says:

“If something is hard to use, I just don’t use it as much.”

So what will this book teach you?

Well it’ll teach you about the principles of design – the best practice foundations. Don’t be put off that it was first published in 2000, surprisingly little has changed in terms of the fundamentals of great web design. The big changes all happened in the mid 90s when the web was developing and things changed quickly – we designers had to pretty much make it up as we were going along (I’ve been designing web sites for that long!) But things have settled down and conventions established – this book guides you through those conventions and explains that by sticking to them you will ultimately have a more usable website and so more happy customers.

What’s inside?

The first five chapters fall under the heading Guiding Principles

  • Chapter 1: Don’t make me think! Krug’s first law of Usability
  • Chapter 2: How we really use the web. Scanning, satisficing and muddling through
  • Chapter 3: Billboard design 101. Designing pages for scanning not reading
  • Chapter 4: Animal, vegetable, or mineral? Why users like mindless choices
  • Chapter 5: Omit needless words: The art of not writing for the web

The next two chapters are about Things You Needs To Get Right

  • Chapter 6: Street signs and breadcrumbs. Designing navigation
  • Chapter 7: The first step in recovery is admitting the home page is beyond your control. Designing the home page

Chapters eight and nine cover Making Sure You Got Them Right

  • Chapter 8: “The farmer and the cowman should be friends” Why most web design team arguments about usability are a waste of time, and how to avoid them
  • Chapter 9: Usability testing on 10 cents a day. Why user testing – done simply enough – is the cure for all your site’s ills

And lastly chapters 10-12 discuss Larger Concerns and Outside Influences

  • Chapter 10: Usability as common courtesy. Why your web site should be a mensch
  • Chapter 11: Accessibility, cascading Style Sheets, and you. Just when you think you’re done, a cat floats by with buttered toast strapped to its back
  • Chapter 12: Help! My boss wants me to ________. When bad design decisions happen to good people

So to sum up, Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability should be on every web designer, programmer, publisher, marketer and bill payers desk. It costs less than £15 and you’ll save/make that back in no time at all. What’s more you’ll be empowered to take control of your web site and get what you want and more importantly what your customers want. You’ll have the reasoning to back up your ‘wants’ when talking to your web designer – so no more being duped into paying for expensive bells and whistles you don’t need. Just common sense web design that will satisfy your customers and keep them coming back.

So that link again Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability Go buy it now!

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