Amanda Olsen

Front End Developer User Experience Enthusiast

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Thoughts on the industry

Don’t Make Me Think

Don’t Make Me Think” is a book that takes it’s own medicine. Steve Krug is the author and it is probably the most well known book in the field of Usability. (In the larger field of UX, I imagine the most well known book is “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman.)

This book is stripped down. Way stripped down. There are no extra words. No extra thoughts. In fact, there is very little content in the book, relatively speaking. It’s an easy read. 185 pages. But if you remove all the graphics and change the line height to 1 instead of 1.5 or 2, I would bet the book is no more than 100 pages.

The reason I’m so impressed with the paired-down copy is that I have read many other UX books and they do not do this. For an author to actually say less, means he has to figure out what he is really saying. That’s hard work. And what is true in copy is also true visually. To pair down means you have to go through the painful process of prioritizing, and then tossing some things. But this creates an excellent user experience. Now the user doesn’t have to wade through your words to figure out what you mean or wade through your visual layout to find out what the page is about. It facilitates a crystal clear experience which in turn requires no thinking.

Here’s what I learned from “Don’t Make Me Think”, which I think is the best usability book I’ve read yet.

  • Usability is not rocket science.
  • Usability is so important that it is better to do it “poorly” than not at all.
  • People don’t use things that are hard.
  • The first rule of usability is “Don’t make me think”
  • We don’t read pages. We scan them. Feverishly.
  • We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.
  • 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.”
  • The second rule of usability is “It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a  mindless, unambiguous choice.”
  • The third rule of usability is “get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”
  • There’s no substitute for testing.
  • Testing one user is 100 percent better than testing none.
  • Testing one user early in the project is better than testing 50 near the end.
  • The point of testing is not to prove or disprove something. It’s to inform your judgment.
  • Testing is an iterative process.
  • Worthwhile testing can be done with just three or four people.

The book then moves into usability testing (it’s relievingly easy/non-stressful) and talks about how to handle internal requests for something that will definitely result in poor usability. Overall, the book provides a way of thinking that is beneficial, attainable, and even reassuringly logical/simple, and then models that thinking in the user experience of the book itself. It was initially written in 2000 – which would usually mean I wouldn’t touch the book – but fortunately, while technology changes at the speed of light, design principles do not.

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