In his book “Don’t Make Me Think”, Steve Krug talks about the importance of designing for the web in a way which makes understanding and interacting with the site as easy as possible for the user. Through his extensive experience in his work as a usability consultant, Steve breaks many usability myths, identifies major usability problem areas, and explains in detail how tried-and-tested conventions and patterns can be used to make a site more useable. His advice is practical and easy to follow, and I will be outlining my key findings from this book.
Avoiding Unnecessary Thinking
From consistent navigation to the appearance of links; from unambiguous page titles to well-placed form labels; from clear and structured copy to brief, timely instructions, virtually all of the cases for improving usability made in this book come down to one thing — making every next step as mindless and easy as possible. Making the interface elements, the content, and the layout as self-evident as possible is a sure-fire way of helping users get to the information they want to access efficiently and of ensuring that they understand what is being shown to them.
We Scan the Web
While it is often tempting to design pages as if users are going to pore over them carefully, the reality is that most users scan through pages and click on links which have some vague bearing to what they are after. And if they do not land in the right place, they will repeat this pattern until they find the content they were after, or leave. Users do not need to figure out how the site is laid out — they just need to muddle through until they get what they want. After all, there isn’t much of a penalty from trial and error.
By keeping the location, behaviour and appearance of elements on a page in line with globally established trends across websites, users can zip through a site more quickly and spend less time unnecessarily working out the site’s oddities. There’s often no need to reinvent the wheel. However, where conventions aren’t appropriate, make sure that what it’s being replaced with is either so clear and self-explanatory that there’s no learning curve, or that it adds so much value that it’s worth a small learning curve.
Lay out the page into clearly defined areas, use visual weight and whitespace to convey importance, and nest elements to show relationships. Format content to help users scan it through short paragraphs, clear headings which sit close to the paragraph they are heading, bullet lists (with ample spacing between list items), and highlighting of key terms.
Make Each Choice Mindless
As long as each choice a user has to make is unambiguous, they are likely to keep making them. Where possible, present the fewest simple and mutually exclusive options at a time and guide the user through a series of easy choices, instead of throwing them in the deep end and making them figure out which of several options to select.
If providing assistance to the user is required, make sure it is brief, placed just where it is needed, and formatted in such a way to make it unmissable.
Remove unnecessary words
This reduces noise on the page, makes the useful content more prominent, and reduces the page length, making it easier to digest at a glance.
Unlike physical shops where signs guide customers around, navigating through the web is more akin to teleportation; there’s no sense of scale, direction or location. As such, clear, well-thought-out navigation is crucial to aid the user find their bearings. It should also reveal what’s on the site and its hierarchy, explain how to use the site implicitly, and give the user confidence in the people who built it if it is easy and intuitive to get around the site.
It’s also crucial to design secondary, tertiary and any deeper levels of navigation in addition to the top-level navigation, as users are likely to spend as much time on lower-level pages as higher-level pages.
Active page indicators must highlight the position in the site’s hierarchy the user is in clearly and distinctively. To ensure they stand out, more than one visual distinction can be applied, such as making the navigation link bold and in a different colour, or giving both the link text and background a different colour. If the visual cue is too subtle, it won’t be obvious enough to the user where they are, and will just add visual clutter to the page.
Purpose of the Homepage
The homepage must unambiguously convey the bigger picture of the site at a glance. It should answer the following questions:
- What is this?
- What can I do here?
- What do they have here?
- Why should I be here — and not somewhere else?
- Where do I start?
If people are lost when they start out, they usually just keep getting…loster
The homepage shouldn’t be used to promote everything. Doing so will make everything on the page less effective. If needed, promote things on other major pages, or take turns promoting something on the homepage.
DIY Usability Testing
Once you have worked on a site for a couple of weeks, you know it too well to identify them yourself .Testing frequently and with a small pool of users is an effective way of finding the main usability issues. This can be done by:
- Spending one morning a month testing, debriefing and deciding what to fix
- Testing continually throughout the development process
- Choosing 3 participants each round
- Choosing participants loosely — more frequent testing is more important than testing “actual” users
- Testing on-site, with observers in a conference room using screen sharing software to watch
- Creating a 1–2 page report on the decisions made during debriefing
- The main stakeholders meeting to decide what to fix
- Identifying the most serious problems and commit to fixing them before the next round of testing
Don't Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug