Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach To Web Usability is an invaluable tool for anyone interested in running a website. The best part about this book is that it is very user friendly. In addition to being a quick and easy read, it is littered with all sorts of examples, graphics, charts, cartoons, and anything else that either backs up Mr. Krug’s point or is easy to digest. In other words, it’s designed exactly how one’s website should be: with usability in mind.
Because Krug has experience dealing with regular people, he talks a lot about the mental process people go through and the challenges people come across when surfing the internet. Whenever we get frustrated, we tend to blame ourselves and not the site. But he also makes an important reminder that there is no such thing as the “average user”; everyone is different. So, when creating a website, he advises to think about the best and easiest way to display information instead of what the “average user” might prefer. You’ll see in his book that Krug adores Amazon’s website and with good reason. It’s extremely user friendly with all sorts of sub-sections and an innovatively effective “search” engine. It’s the poster child for most of the concepts he lays out. And no, the irony is not lost on me that I bought this book from Amazon.
The heaviest portions of this book cover site navigation and the home page. These concepts define whether someone comes back to your site. If a web user doesn’t know hot to get back to where they started or doesn’t know why they’re on your site, they’ll leave. Krug maps out various techniques on how to make a site navigable. These include tabs, utilities bars, breadcrumbs, and pulldowns (it all makes perfect sense in the book). People don’t want to feel lost even on the internet. Krug then lays out what makes an effective home page and what doesn’t. It’s all about the balance of how much information is too much. But it needs to be clear what your website is all about and why it’s better than some other site.
The last few chapters on usability testing are probably more geared towards business than just one person with a blog. But no site is too small that it can’t be tested by at least one person because, as Krug points out: “Testing one user is 100% better than testing none.” A great section talks about what to do when conducting a test. Watch what your test users do, see their reactions, and see what they’re struggling with. This either validates any concerns you have had or can point out new ones you didn’t even notice the first go-around.
I learned a great deal from this book without expending excruciating effort. And no, it’s not because the copy I bought happened to already be highlighted to the brim. It’s because it explained in plain detail every aspect of designing a website. Keep everything as simple as possible. Don’t wear down a home page with too much distracting noise. Make sure the most important pieces of information are the most visible. Give the user a sense of where he/she is in the context of the site. Keep the logo on all pages so users know they’re still on the same website. Make sure all clickable items look like they’re clickable (and vice versa). A concise yet comprehensive tagline can make all the difference. These things are all trademarks of good websites. They are things that maybe I knew but never bothered to think about. And now, I have a greater sense of confidence that I know what to look for when designing for the interweb.