Don’t Make Me Think

If you haven’t had the pleasure, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is a must-read book not just for web developers and designers, but for anyone that’s ever criticized a website, ever. I recently had the pleasure of reading it again as part of a work semi-assignment, and there were a few key points that really struck a chord with me (for the second time) I thought I’d share here.

Web users tend to act like sharks: They have to keep moving, or they’ll die.

Fact. With as busy as we all are and as convenient as the modern web is, this is more true than ever before. With the recent SOPA Blackout day, a dedicated Twitter account retweeted the cries of scornful users whose loss of the immediate Wikipedia access they’ve come to expect had many of them in a tailspin of emotion. Had these users taken the time to read the 3 sentences presented to them (instead of the content they were expecting) they would have noticed it was a purposeful protest and not an outage or the government shutting them down.

Innovate when you have a better idea (and everyone you show it to says “Wow!”) but take advantage of conventions when you don’t.

This happens to all savvy internet creators eventually. You have a great idea, maybe you even mocked up some designs or wireframes, but instead of it being revolutionary it’s a remix of old ideas that break tons of existing conventions. What you end up with is Frankenstein’s monster; a babbling clod of an idea that everyone is afraid of, even if it just wants to be loved.

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.

Enough said.

If you look up navigation in the dictionary, it’s about doing two things: getting from one place to another, and figuring out where you are.

As the web becomes increasingly connected, more and more navigational elements are infiltrating our once flat and simple world. Remembering to keep primary navigation simple and secondary navigation to a minimum is becoming increasingly difficult to do.

Left to their own devices, development teams aren’t notoriously successful at making decisions about usability questions. Most teams end up spending a lot of precious time rehashing the same issues over and over.

Fact. This happens all the time, even individual Automattic projects. Everyone has great ideas with years (decades?) of experience behind them to prove their opinions are the best ones. Thankfully, these “religious debates” end up being constructive for everyone, and we’re all really good at settling down and agreeing before anything bad happens (even when it comes to reblogging.)

Resist the impulse to add things. When it’s obvious in testing that users aren’t getting something, most people’s first reaction is to add something, like an explanation or some instructions.

Very often, the right solution is to take something (or things) away that are obscuring the meaning, rather than adding yet another distraction.

See navigational elements above. As newer and more capable technologies are introduced and as more systems are introduced to work on top of more systems, it’s easy, as an expert to throw all-of-the-things at existing not-so-good things.

Consistency among browsers: workarounds and hacks are still required to ensure that your CSS works across all browsers, but these will fall away as browser makers continue to improve their CSS support.

This made me laugh, and then cry, because it hasn’t really improved in the past 10 years. We’re still prefixing our CSS styling with browser specific tags no differently than we were writing browser specific HTML for Internet Explorer and Netscape. I’m all for a progressive and competitive web, but don’t make me think about what CSS convention I should use or what browser to favor.

But above all, be of good cheer. Building a great website is an enormous challenge, and anyone who gets it even half right has my admiration.

Building great websites is hugely difficult. Thanks to a bunch of really awesome open-source projects and the thousands of contributors, it’s easier than ever to make awesome looking and working websites. I’m really happy to be a part of something I both enjoy and believe in, and it’s books like Don’t Make Me Think that I enjoy rereading every few years to keep my priorities and abilities in check.