“Don’t Make Me Think” During COVID-19 — Part 1

Image of the book Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug covering the three laws of usability

Since the onset of Covid-19, there are two things I’ve noticed due to both my lived experience and profession. From a personal angle, my phone tells me my time spent online (just on my mobile device, mind you) has increased by nearly 60 percent. From the professional angle of working at a web development agency, there has been an uptick in clients wanting to update or create new websites. 

At first glance, it may seem obvious why businesses want websites now: for much of the past 18 months, quarantine has restricted people’s access to brick and mortar stores. Digging a bit deeper, though, more clients looking to improve their site are also an effect of the global pandemic: everyone (who can) is spending much more time online than ever. 

So if a customer were to happen upon a poorly designed or maintained website, you are most likely going to lose them, and with that, many businesses’ only source of sales right now.

This prompted me to go back and read a book that I feel would be helpful for web designers in a time where the ‘COVID Website Redesign’ era is in full swing hold. The book “Don’t Make Me Think Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability” is full of useful pointers and methods for improving a website’s usability.

Whether you work in an agency that builds websites, or you are a solo-entrepreneur with a DIY website; hopefully, you can get a few helpful tips from this summary, or even better, be persuaded to grab a copy of this book for yourself. 

The Three Laws of Usability 

I’ve divided the main points of this book into several sections to illustrate the key ideas best. 

Written by Steve Krug, originally in 2000, but more recently revised in 2014, “Don’t Make Me Think” starts with the ‘Three Laws of Usability,’ which will serve as a reference for all other points made in this book.  

The ‘Three Laws of Usability’ are:

  • Don’t make the user think.
  • Make every click an obvious choice with no need to think.
  • Half the words on each page, then half them again.

Essentially, a website makes the grade if who we consider the ‘average user’ (more on that later) can figure out how to use it without it being too much trouble.

How People Use the Web

One of the first ways to go about that is to make the content easy to scan. Krug points out that web users rarely, if ever, read a page top to bottom, relishing every word. We look for specific information at first glance, and if we don’t see it on the first page, we try again on another page.

To make this process less mentally-taxing for the user, Krug recommends a couple of things. Since very few people are going to spend time reading paragraphs upon paragraphs on your site, half all of the words on the page… and then do that again. 

The other recommendation is to lay out pages as clearly defined sections and subsections. Additionally, it is crucial to make more important information stand out, i.e., make the text larger or bolder to draw a user’s eye there first. 

It also helps connect similar things (content, images, etc.) by making them the same size, color, or just physically closer. But that being said, it’s imperative that you do your best to keep pages clutter-free, so all the effort of making things stand out isn’t overwhelmed by unnecessary elements.

Getting Where You Need to Go

Now that the basic page organization is taken care of, it’s time to focus our “Don’t Make Me Think” review on what Krug thinks to be the next most important topic: how users navigate to those pages:

In the book, Krug likened the navigation of a website to looking for something in a big department store, but with one big caveat. On a website, users don’t get to navigate a website in a physical space where they can see everything, making it all the more important to make it as straightforward as possible.

The navigation of a website serves two purposes. One, to help users find what they are looking for. And two, to help them where they are on your website. And like shoppers in a department store, people navigate through in their own way. Some people like to browse on their own; some like to ask for help first, and almost always, people will leave if they can’t find what they are looking for. 

And though people like to go about browsing in different ways, several things should always be on every page: 

  • Site logo, usually in the top left corner
  • Primary navigation, i.e., the links or tabs to the different pages in the site
  • A search bar, typically on the top-right side of the page

It’s also helpful to note that it’s important to the user to know how they got to a page (via links or tabs they clicked), so leaving a trail of breadcrumbs at the top of the page is imperative for straightforward navigation of a site.

Stay tuned for the second part of this article where we discuss the second half of “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug:

  • Cutting Through the Clutter
  • Usability Testing
  • Mobile & Accessibility

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