I’ve been wanting to do some book reviews for a little bit. Ya know.. put my bookshelf to use beyond just myself and my obsessive amazon wishlisting and purchasing habits. This is then the first of at least 1.
Steve Krug’s ‘Dont Make Me Think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability’ is one of the first books I read about web design and it was a revelatory experience. Even though he was echoing many of my own thoughts about using websites over the years, he was doing so precisely, with vast tracts of supporting evidence and plenty of specific techniques to apply to my projects.
The central thesis of Krug’s book is one that has become fairly accepted over the years, at least in web-design circles: you should design and structure websites based around what the user wants. They call it User-Centered Design or UCD these days. It turns out people will like your site more if it gives them what they want. They’ll be more likely to go beyond the homepage, come back to the site next week with their auntie, or buy a goat from you, etc. It’s kind of a no-brainer to lots of people, yet at the same time it’s very easy to lose track of if your ‘brand’ steals the limelight. Bigger logo, more focus on what you want the user to do, hide those expensive prices behind a contact form, make the logo a little bigger still, etc. I guess that’s the thing about no-brainers, maybe they should be in your brain, just in case!
The book covers a lot of important aspects of web design over its 12 chapters, touching on usability issues, design concepts, but not too many technical considerations. Steve starts off from a psychological bent with the ‘Guiding Principles’ section, determining how people really use websites (scanning, satisficing, and muddling through) and what people like to see. Then it’s ‘Things You Need to Get Right’, which has the longest chapter in the book on Designing Navigation, which talks about structuring content, persistent navigation, and searching. Glancing over this chapter did make me realize how little I use breadcrumbs in my browsing these days. Then there’s some chapters on running usability tests with no money
You might balk at the $44.00 CAD price tag for a slim, 200 page book with easy to read type. I know I did! But a) amazon and b) this is actually a really well put-together book. It has thick, sturdy pages, lots of illustrations, charts and a lovely humanist sans for headers. The writing style is relaxed, personal and very readable. It is, importantly, a highly usable book.
The book is a little ‘been-there, done-that’ at points (do we really need someone telling us that splash pages are a bad idea anymore?). Then again, it was originally published around 10 years ago when these things weren’t old hat at all–they were new hat! The example sites used in the plentiful illustrations definitely show their age as well (nary a reflection nor rounded corner!), but that’s easily overlooked because they demonstrate his points very well, and make the case that content, structure and layout of a page are the first thing you should be worrying about in the design of a site.
Even if you think you’re on board the UCD train, Don’t Make Me Think is worth a look. It provides a complete picture of how to think of site design, and many ways to give people what they want (he’s already got a lot of that figured out, thankfully, thanks to user testing!) The other great part of it is knowing how to explain these things to clients or workmates. Krug gives all sorts of facts and science to back up his assertions, which will really help you convince those that need convincing that you’re right without having to yell “It’s just obviously better that way!”
If you are interested in creating websites and haven’t got a solid foundation in user centred design principles, this book is a must-read and a great place to start.