Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug

New Riders, 2000, 195 pages, C$52.95 tpb, ISBN 0-7897-2310-7

Good web design is a blend of science, art and experience that isn’t properly appreciated by most people, including many web designers themselves. Not only do web sites have to look good and use technology effectively, they also have to serve some of the most bug-ridden hardware ever conceived: humans.

Web design is merely the latest offshoot of usability, a field with a long and illustrious history. Ever since someone has mass-marketed something for others, human/machine interaction, ergonomics, interface conception and pleasant design have found an essential place in industry. The challenge of the web is that now everyone with a text editor and an image-manipulation program has to care about usability. But whereas car manufacturer wouldn’t dream of releasing a car without expensive input from ergonomics specialists, companies often unaccountably entrust their financial future to HTML weenies without an inkling of interest in human factors.

Web-usability guru Jakob Nielsen has made a name for himself by becoming an expert at pointing out other people’s web boo-boos. His best-known book, Designing Web Usability is well-worth its cover price for any serious webmaster. But he’s not the only guru in cybertown, and that’s why Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think! is definitely worth a look.

From the deliberately provocative title onward, Krug’s book is refreshingly breezy. Light, funny and to the point, Don’t Make Me Think! is, as the sub-title indicates, a non-nonsense primer. Written by a professional for a wide audience, Think! is neither too technical nor too abstract, striking a balance between all the different parties -and requirements- involved in building a good web site. The top-level view of web design is also a refreshing change after once too many nuts-and-bolts HTML reference guides.

It’s a short book (under 200 pages!), but don’t be fooled by the size: Every page counts and Krug practices his own precepts (“Happy talk must die”, “Omit -needless- words”, etc.) with ruthless efficiency. Don’t Make me Think! is cleverly illustrated and the book’s layout is exemplary in a technical field where embarrassing mistakes have been committed in the past. (Again, refer to Nielsen’s book) This is a book written and designed in such a way that you’ll rush through an initial read, but re-read again and again in order to refresh your memory.

Krug’s main bugaboos are worth repeating; Don’t make users think (guide their eyes, guide their minds and eventually they will discover the rest for themselves), be succinct (cut every word that doesn’t deserve to be there), include good navigation (often simply offering multiple ways of getting to what they want) and test-test-test! (Even cheap user testing -explained here- is better than no testing at all)

There is a lot for everyone in Don’t Make me Think!, from the technician to the CEO. Usability testing won’t be of interest to the techy-in-a-cubicle, but the how-users-think should be sufficient to avoid the worst mistakes. As if to assuage guilt, Krug gently uses real-world examples in how good designs can be improved even further.

Combining great advice with a compulsively-readable writing style, Don’t Make Me Think! ranks up there with Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability as one of the few dead-paper resources worth owning by pro web designers. Read it once, and then keep it close.

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