Building a great website isn’t just about technology or design; it’s also about understanding human psychology. This book by Steve Krug offers valuable principles and guidelines on how to design great, usable websites. These insights are not just relevant for web designers and developers, but also anyone who wants to understand how people behave and how you can make things more usable. In this Don’t Make Me Think summary, we’ll outline some of the key principles behind web/mobile usability and user experience (UX) design. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.
Introduction: Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited
Today, it’s hard to imagine any business without a website or internet presence. The book “Don’t Make Me Think” was first written in 2000 around the dot-com crash. Since then, technology has changed rapidly, yet the principles in the book remain unchanged. That’s because usability is fundamentally about human psychology, which is slow to change.
Once you understand how the human brain works, you can continue to apply the insights even as technology and landscapes evolve. This book equips you and your team with useful principles and tips to prevent and address usability issues on your own. This 2013 edition was updated with newer examples and to additional landscape changes since 2000. [We elaborate on these changes in our full Don’t Make Me Think summary. Click here for the full summary].
Note: “Website” in this article refers generically to both websites and web/mobile apps.
The 3 Laws of Usability
Law #1: Don’t make me think
This is the overarching rule. Each time a user has to pause (even for a split-second) to think about something, it distracts him from the action you want him to take. The goal is to make your website effortless to use, i.e. make it self-explanatory, if not self-evident.
A website is self-evident when users “get” what it’s about and how to use it without having to think. As a rule of thumb, (i) make clickable links/buttons obvious and (ii) use words that are obvious to everyone. Avoid technical jargon, clever-but-confusing marketing phrases, or terms that’re specific to your industry/company.
Law #2: Make every click an obvious choice with no need to think
Krug believes that the number of clicks doesn’t matter, so long as each click is mindless (i.e. no thinking required) and obvious (i.e. the user is sure it’s the right choice). The only exception is during slow internet speed, in which case the # clicks will make a difference.
Law #3: Half the words on each page, then half them again
Remove all unnecessary words to reduce distractions, allow the key content to stand out, and shorten the page to minimize scrolling. The only exception is for news or content-driven articles.
In our full book summary, we elaborate on these 3 laws with more details and examples.
How to Design Usable Websites
How People Use the Web
People do not read websites in a sequential, detailed or orderly fashion. Specifically:
• We scan (not read) web pages;
• We make reasonable (not optimal) choices; and
• We go for guesswork (not the “right” approach).
Design your website for easy scanning
How do you design your site for quick and easy scanning? In the book / our full summary, we elaborate on why/how to (i) use existing conventions, (ii) use effective visual hierarchies, (iii) format your content for easy scanning, (iv) make every click mindless and obvious, and (v) remove distractions or “noise” on your website.
Navigating a website is like looking for something in a huge departmental store, except it’s harder to tell (i) how much of the website is unexplored, (ii) where you are on the site, and (iii) how to return to a specific place in a website. One thing is certain: people will leave if they can’t find what they’re looking for.
Effective web navigation must help users to (i) find what they’re looking for, and (ii) know where they are on the site plus what options are available to them there. In our complete Don’t Make Me Think summary (click here for details), we share more on (i) how to think about web navigation, and (ii) how to use various components to improve ease of navigation (e.g. global vs local navigation, site ID, sections & subsections, utilities, search bars, page name, “You are here” indicators), and (iii) how to test the effectiveness of your site navigation.
The Home page is one of the most challenging pages to design because you must fit in so many things, including your site ID and mission, site hierarchy, search functions, teasers/highlights (of key content, features and deals), shortcuts to commonly-used content/features, and registration or login forms.
Fundamentally, your Home page must give a clear, big-picture overview of your site, since the initial impression will affect how the user interprets (or misinterprets) everything else on your site, and people tend to return to your Home page as a “base” to orientate themselves. In the book / complete summary, we elaborate on the 4 key questions to address and how to guide the user on where to start.
How to do Usability Testing
Usability tests are about watching how people use something (e.g. your website). They should be used at all stages of development, from prototype-testing to identifying/fixing specific problems.
You can hire usability consultants from $5-10k, but it’s also possible to do DIY testing using the tips in this book. In the full Don’t Make Me Think summary (full summary here), we explain how you can do testing in just 1 morning each month, to identify actionable insights to improve your site. Here’s a quick overview:
Other Usability Considerations
Generally, usability principles and testing are generally similar for web and mobile, though you must be even more rigorous in mobile content break-down and make things even more self-evident.
In our complete 16-page summary, we also outline the key considerations and tips for (i) mobile usability, (ii) maintaining goodwill, (iii) accessibility issues and (iv) gaining management support for web usability improvements.
Other Details in “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited”
This is a short, easy-to-read book with many useful illustrations, diagrams and examples on the key concepts, tips and insights outlined in this summary. Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get our full summary bundle for an overview of the various ideas and tips, or check out more resources (including scripts, videos and checklists for usability testing at sensible.com.
Find out how to design great websites that’re easy to use and navigate!