This is the third revision of Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. It has been more than thirteen years since the first version was published. A lot has changed in this time, including HTML5 and mobile computing. In this edition he updates all of his website examples and adds a new chapter on mobile computing. Krug’s message is keep things simple, design for the way people read, eliminate unnecessary clutter and above all, don’t make them think. His usability testing process is presented in this book and covered in detail in Rocket Surgery Made Easy. Again, his message is keep it simple, test only a few users at a time, but test often. This is a great book for anyone who wants to improve their website usability or just understand the core basics of usability. I really liked the second version of Don’t Make Me Think, and it is nice to see this title updated with more current examples and design considerations for mobile web interfaces. If there is anything missing from this book, it would only be that I would love to see data driven results from all of his years of usability testing.
This is the third edition of Don’t Make Me Think. So why the rewrite now? According to Steve Krug, “Let’s face it: It’s old.” The original book is more than 13 years old. Lots of things have changed since the first two editions. For example, mobile computing and HTML5. Things on the web look a lot different now than they did in 2001 or in 2006. Even the language of usability has changed, it is now called user experience (UX).
“It is still the same book, with the same purpose. It’s still a book about designing websites. It’s also about designing anything that people need to interact with, whether it’s a microwave oven, a mobile app, or an ATM. “ (Krug 2014) There is a new section on Mobile apps and he has updated most of the site examples with new examples. Most of his original wit, and occasional cartoons are still present. And it is still a book you could read on a single plane flight. Not the 1-2 hour variety, but a 3-4 hour flight would be enough to pretty much devour the content of the book.
Usability is about people and how they use things. People change very slowly, but technology changes very fast. So what is usable? Steve Krug defines it as “A person of average ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it is worth.” Improving usability is about getting rid of the question marks. Every question mark adds to our cognitive overload.
In both the original version of the text, and the most recent version, Steve spends time looking at how we use the web. He contends we use the web very different from how we normally read. He uses the analogy of reading a billboard as you are going by at 60 miles per hour. We don’t read, we scan. We don’t make optimal choices we satisfice. We don’t figure out how things work, we muddle through. Steve’s advice: “If your audience acts like you’re designing billboards, then design great billboards.”
In Don’t Make Me Think he includes Billboard Design 101: Conventions are your friend, Create effective visual hierarchies, Break pages up into clearly defined areas, Make Obvious what is clickable. Keep the noise to a dull roar, Format text to support scanning. And most of all, Make choices mindless. Other chapters discuss keeping word content minimal by remove unnecessary words. “Happy talk must die, Instructions must die.” Use street signs and breadcrumbs. Make sure your users know where they are. “What works is good integrated design that fills a need – carefully thought out, well executed and tested. (Krug 2014)
The new chapter on mobile devices talks about how to design for what he calls “an itty bitty living space”. He contends it’s all about tradeoffs. You have to determine your constraints, things you have to do and things you can’t do, and figure out how to negotiate the space in between. He talks about affordances as the meat and potatoes of a visual user interface. Mobile interfaces don’t have the advantage of the mouse over cues, so we have to be clear in our design about how users will use the interface. One of my favorite parts of this chapter is his design for a Brundleyfly camera. It is basically a web camera mounted on a book light. When plugged into a computer USB port, it will capture the action on a mobile device for a usability study. He states that instructions will be available online at rocketsurgerymadeeasy.com, but I was not able to find them.
This book is designed to be an introductory book to web site design and usability. The book itself is well designed. Krug uses many of his own principles in the design of the book. Just as he recommends for websites, the text doesn’t include any more words than necessary. The text is broken up into well-defined areas and you always know where you are. His do-it-yourself usability study is easy to follow and implement. It is a great resource for small organizations and web design firms. His processes are based on the core philosophy of user observation. Watch the user, see how they use the product, listen, and learn from their experience.
In an interview on UserTesting.com, Steve discussed the process of writing this book. While reviewing websites looking for new examples for his book, he noted how difficult it was to find good examples of things done well. (Krug 2014) I found this interesting, because one of the chapters in his book is titled “Usability as Common Courtesy.” It does seem that it is easy to create web pages, so many organizations will skimp on costs and create their own in house web designs. The creators of these do-it-yourself style of websites is probably the primary target audience for Don’t Make Me Think.
There is not a lot of in depth research in Don’t Make Me Think. Most of the references are anecdotal and based on Steve’s own experiences in the field of usability testing. Granted, he has a powerful reputation and his years of experience conducting usability studies gives him the ability to speak from his own expert opinion. However, if you are looking for an academic text, with references to prior research, you will be disappointed with this title.
That being said, I don’t have anything else negative to say about this new edition of Don’t Make Me Think. From practical experience, it is easy to use. It gives a good solid framework from which to view web site usability. And for most people, it will give them enough to work with. As Steve points out in the book, we can spend a lot of money on testing, but if we don’t have a lot of money to spend on development, we will have wasted our money. Many sites, and apps, can be greatly improved by regular usability testing and addressing the most important usability issues in future development.
I tried hard to develop recommendations for this book. However, given the books’ target audience and its focus, I don’t have any specific recommendations. What I would like to see is a book that is a more advanced version of this book. Possibly supported by the data that Steve must have accumulated across many years of usability testing. Maybe some before and after data. How did the site perform after usability testing and changes made as a result of those improvements. Which improvements made the most impact?
I first read Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy a number of years ago. They were revolutionary texts at the time, and gave me a framework I was able to incorporate into my own web development practices. However, now at least 5-7 years after my first reading of the book, I found myself wanting more.
Krug, S. (2014). Don’t make me think, revisited. Berkley, CA: New Riders.
Krug, S. (2014). Insider Interview: Steve Krug (Part 1). UserTesting.com.