Last updated on February 3rd, 2011
Web usability is a topic I’ve recently begun delving into to learn more about how to make websites more user-friendly.
No matter if it’s a website, an electronic device or a really nice car – if you can’t easily use it, you’re going to get frustrated pretty quickly.
This is especially true of websites…they must be user-friendly for each type of visitor coming to your website. There’s no one-size fits all here!!
With that said the title of a book I recently read on the subject – Don’t Make Me Think – sums up the purpose and spirit of making
sure your website is easily usable. If you remember anything from this, remember those 4 important words and you will understand the essence of good web usability, which should answer four important questions in a matter of seconds without the user having to think.
First of all, I’d like to say this easy-to-read book by Steve Krug is a must have for anyone wanting to market a business online. Krug’s strong visuals and eloquent prose help you easily visualize how homepages, sales pages and any other page on your site should be structured.
Besides the good writing and illustrations, the book is an easy read as well. Like Krug says in his introduction, it can easily be read in the time it takes to fly from New York to L.A.
Well enough of the glim and glam, let’s get down to the book and what it’s about. Continue reading for a brief overview of each chapter and the concepts Krug explores. Of course to fully understand web usability, I strongly suggest you get a copy of Don’t Make Me Think the first chance you get.
While this book isn’t very long, a blog post summarizing all of the important points would be. With that in mind, this review will be broken into two parts. Below is the first part of our review for your enjoyment and enlightenment. Check back in a few days for a summary of more of Krug’s insights (…and illustrations too).
Don’t Make Me Think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
Krug’s nearly 200 page book comes jam packed with illustrations and tips for making your website more usable. It’s divided into 4 sections and contains 12 chapters in all. Continue reading for a quick overview of each chapter.
Section I – Guiding Principles
Chapter 1 – Don’t make me think!
Krug’s first law of usability and the one thing you must remember when designing a website. Website visitors should be able to “get it” – what it is and how to use it – without having to think about it. In other words, it needs to be self evident to the point that someone with absolutely no knowledge of what you do can understand it in a matter of seconds.
Making people think when they land on your website saps their mental energy to continue. If your website is hard to navigate, it won’t take very long for someone to get mentally exhausted and leave.
Many websites contain things that do make us think. Cute or clever names are typical culprits along with marketing-induced names, company-specific names and unfamiliar technical terms. Links to buttons that aren’t obviously clickable is another source of question.
Rather than providing another checklist to follow, Krug says you should simply understand the basic principle of eliminating question marks. If you do that, you will be well on your way to making a very user-friendly website.
Chapter 2: How we really use the web
If you stop and think about it for a minute, most of us don’t read a webpage word for word. We glance at a page, scan some text and click on the first link that we think has what we’re looking for. Many web designers though create websites under the assumption people will laboriously pore over each page and weigh their options before choosing where to go next…nothing could farther from the truth.
Many designers think their sites are works of great literature while the reality is much closer to a “billboard going by at 60 mph.”
Below are 3 facts regarding real world web use:
1. We don’t read web pages, we scan them
2. Since most of us are in a hurry, we don’t make optimal choices, we just ‘satisfice’
3. We don’t figure things out, we muddle
Krug in fact said something very interesting about muddling and that is experts aren’t really experts, they’re simply “…muddling through at a higher level.” Remember that the next time someone poses as an expert.
Chapter 3: Billboard Design 101
Considering web users are generally surfing the web at lightning speeds, web designers and marketers need to view their homepage and other pages as billboards rather than great works of art.
Those of us who have worked on web pages take great pride in our work. While this is admirable, it’s important we view our web pages in the proper context in order for them to be successful.
In Chapter 3, Krug outlines 5 things you can do to make sure users see and understand as much about your site as possible. These include:
1. Creating a clear visual hierarchy on every page
2. Taking advantage of conventions (both naming and graphic)
3. Breaking pages into clearly defined areas
4. Making it obvious what constitutes a clickable link
5. Minimizing noise
There’s nothing new about visual hierarchies in fact. Prominence, grouping and nesting are concepts used in newspapers for ages.
They’re basically designed to give the reader useful information on the contents of the page before the reader actually reads anything. Conventions are also something newspapers have used for ages. Headlines, sub-headlines, picture captions are some examples of both traditional and online conventions.
#3 is pretty obvious…clearly defined areas are a must. Again, this feeds into the goal of creating a webpage users can figure out in a matter of seconds without any thought.
Making sure links clearly state they’re clickable is also important for maintaining patience and goodwill among your users. And finally, keep noise to a minimum. Visual noise can kill an otherwise good page. Having too many things on a webpage can overwhelm users and cause more of them to just leave.
Chapter 4: Animal, vegetable or mineral? Why users like mindless choices.
Over the years, web designers and usability professionals have spent lots of time debating how many clicks you should expect a user to go through to get what they want without getting too frustrated…many designers in fact have rules specifying the maximum number of clicks to get to any page on a site.
Krug thinks numbers aren’t so important though – while it seems like a useful criteria to him, it’s generally safe to assume most users don’t mind a lot of clicks as long as they’re effortless.
Making choices as mindless as possible is in fact one main task to making a site easy to use. Be sure links and drop-down menus are clear in what they offer.
Chapter 5: Omit needless words – The art of not writing for the web.
Considering the vast majority of web users scan web pages and don’t read them word for word, having needless words in your copy will only frustrate matters from a usability perspective.
In his Elements of Style book, E.B. White details several rules, the 17th of which is the following:
Omit needless words
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
Omitting needless words has several benefits, including:
- Reducing noise level on a page
- Making useful content more prominent
- Making pages shorter, which allows users to see more of the page without having to scroll
Therefore, if you’re going to omit needless words, all the happy talk (i.e. self-congratulatory promotional writing) must go. You can tell when you’re reading some. In the back of your head, you hear voices saying, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”
Another way to omit needless words is to eliminate instructions. No one is going to read them unless they’ve failed several times at just ‘muddling’ through. Eliminate instructions by making everything as self-explanatory as possible.
This brings us to the end of part I of Don’t Make Me Think, which outlined some guiding principles you need to understand in order to build a useful website. Check back with us in a few days to learn how you should design your navigation, homepage and even how you can deal with the inherent controversies that stem from building a website for your company in part II of our review and summary.