Book Review of Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Book Review of Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug

I am sure that all of us have had good and bad website/mobile app user experience but we rarely introspect as to why did we feel the way we did when we used that particular site. This exercise isn’t much of a value-add if you are an end consumer, whereas the insights drawn from this introspection would certainly help an application developer, marketing personnel and CXOs of an organization in evaluating their webapp/mobile products. In this book, Steve throws light on the simple yet foundational concepts that would ensure that end users of one’s web/mobile application are having a smooth and delightful experience. 

The book is neatly divided into 5 core parts- Krug’s guiding principles in designing a website, how to get the design right, how to make sure that one gets them right, applying design principles for Mobile App development and other accessibility aspects of designing. 

Steve, given his rich experience as a usability consultant, lays down three laws of Usability, around which the book revolves:

1st Law: Don’t make me thinkGiven the hurry a customer is in and their general tendency to scan and skim through the website, the users don’t really use the web the way developers expect it to be. Krug says that the user satisfices, where one doesn’t choose the best option, instead choose the first reasonable option. So, if you don’t help get the user off on the right foot, we might as well bid adieu to them once and for all.

2nd Law: It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice. Krug emphasizes that it is crucial to give the user the confidence that they are on the right track throughout their navigation through your website. He says that the ‘scent of information’ should be made evident in the website which helps the user to understand where he/she is currently and where to head next to get the desired information. Scents of Information would include -Positioning of menu navigation, enforcing visual hierarchies, usage of web navigation conventions by making the utilities such as page names, tabs, search box etc self-evident. Most importantly, the developer should not try invent something new just for the sake of it and adhere to the well-known designing conventions as it aids in good navigation which will give the confidence to the user in the people who built it.

To put it in Steve’s words, ‘People won’t use your website if they can’t find their way around it’. 

It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.

3rd Law: Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s leftHe advises that one should avoid too much of happy self-promotional talks and pare down instructions, as no one has got the time to read all those blah-blah stuff. At the same time, he states the importance of designing an accessible and informative Home Page, which should readily give the information that any user who either is in a hurry or chances upon on the website would need. 

The best part of the book is that Steve didn’t stop with spelling out the laws for usability as he knows that these principles are just a means to an end and not the end in itself. He, therefore, stresses on the need for testing as he strongly believes that all Web Users are unique and web usage, therefore, is basically idiosyncratic. Hence, there is no substitute for usability testing.  But, sadly, most usability tests done are too little, too late, and for all the wrong reasons. And not having time, money, expertise, usability lab or the skills to interpret the results aren’t good enough a reason for not carrying out a usability test.

According to him, usability test isn’t about a room full of individuals with strong personal convictions debating about what makes for a good website but it’s about understanding how a random user would use your website and draw insights from such live user experiences. Why Steve thinks that it is critical to carry out usability testing:

  • If you want a great site, you’ve got to test- Testing reminds you that not everyone thinks the way you do, knows what you know, and uses the Web the way you do. It essentially gives you a fresh perspective on things. 
  • Testing with one user is 100 percent better than testing none.
  • Testing with one user early in the project is better than testing with 50 near the end. 

     And he showers us with lots of tips and tricks as to what is the best time to do a usability testing, how many users do you need, how to choose the participants, where to find them, where do you test, what do you test and what tasks to choose for the participants to be tested, how to conduct the test and how to draw insights. He suggests that upon drawing insights, the team should focus ruthlessly on fixing the most serious problems first. 

     He, then, discusses on implementing the same principles for mobile view/apps and the trade-offs that the development team has to evaluate and decide what to let  go off and what not to for the big screen. When designing a mobile app, he talks about one important attribute- “memorability”, which means that once a user has figured out how to use an app, he/she shouldn’t be investing same effort the next time as it wouldn’t lead to a satisfying experience.

     Okay, we now know what are the principles and how to go about doing the usability testing. But why take so much pain? Here’s the answer- ‘Goodwill’.  Steve shares the secret that will help one build goodwill for one’s website-

  •         Know the main things that your user wants and make them obvious
  •         Be upfront with key information the user would need like pricing, features etc. and don’t hide them
  •         Save the user steps where you can
  •         Display FAQs and keep them up to date
  •         Make it easy for the user to recover from erroneous navigation
  •         When in doubt, apologize
  •         Don’t punish the user for not doing things your way just because you don’t want to write a little bit of extra code

     Towards the end, Steve touches upon the least bothered topic- the importance of making one’s site accessible, something which the developers tend to disregard generally, by making it usable by differently abled people as well. Steve believes that it is an opportunity to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our jobs better by paying attention to little things like adding alt text for every image, use heading styles correctly so that it is logically distinguishable, create significant contrast between the text and background. 

      Last but not the least, he addresses the burning question- How to make my management team buy this idea of usability tests and its importance? Would they even care? Steve suggests that garnering the support of the management in supporting you with the usability tests is very much possible if you could get them watch a live test or its recording, and, if possible, speak their language by quantifying the Return on Investment(ROI) which would ensue by carrying out these tests.

Throughout the book, he also provides us good references on reading material and websites that would help us understand and appreciate the importance of designing a ‘usable website/mobile application’.

Overall, this book is a crisp one that doesn’t ramble about and gives a great clarity for web developers, designers and other stakeholders on how and why to look through the lens of the user. This book will make you think about your choices and the process in designing a website so that your user doesn’t have to think!!!

I would be not doing justice to the author, if I don’t quote his life-changing advise(not applicable for the already married ones :P), though not connected to the topic at hand – ‘If you’d like your life to be good, marry well!’


About Sammy's MindChirps

Hello! Welcome to Sammy's MindChirps. I'm glad you are here. To me, the word LIFE is an acronym of Laboratory with Infinite Freedom to Experiment. It's more like a kaleidoscope offering amazing learning opportunities as we grow and explore various facets of life. So this blog is a platform where I share anything that I find interesting (with my two cents, of course :D). I assure that you will have some new learning when you exit the blog. And do share your feeback on the blog or anything you want me to write about in this blog by dropping an email to