The book Don't Make Me Think

“Don’t Make Me Think” During COVID-19 – Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed what Steve Krug calls ‘The Three Law of Usability’, how people use the web, and website navigation. In Part 2, we’ll be discussing how to clear website clutter, do user testing, and the importance of accessibility.

Cutting the Homepage Clutter

Usually hailed as the most crucial and most difficult page to create on a website is the homepage. 

One of the main reasons this page is so challenging to design is that it needs to include many essential site elements while not being overwhelming. Those elements typically are, but aren’t necessarily limited to, site ID/mission, site hierarchy, search functions, highlights of key content/features/deals, shortcuts to frequently/most used content and site features, and a login/registration form.

To cut through the confusion of designing the homepage, Krug advises that the homepage answer these four basic questions:

  1. What is this site? [Site ID and mission]
  2. What can I find here? [Content]
  3. What can I do here? [Features]
  4. Why should I be here? [Value proposition]

To illustrate the key message of a site, a few universal elements can be incorporated. 

The first of these is a tagline. It’s the no more than 6-8 words found near the site logo that sums up your value proposition and illustrates your differentiating factor. Next is the welcome blurb. Usually located at the top left of the content space, the welcome blurb is a succinct description of the business—don’t mistake this as a space for the mission statement; those are more lengthy. Lastly, there should be a search button or link where users can directly search what they are looking for.

Once you’ve addressed the four questions above, you must show the user where to start (i.e., browse, search, get a free sample, or another CTA).

With the homepage, it is important to test every element. Don’t rely on common assumptions or assume all users (or the ‘average user’) will think like you or your design team. 

The How and Who of Testing

Unlike the more common practice of focus groups, usability testing is about watching how people use something, like your website, whereas focus groups are small groups of people discussing something. 

Usability testing can be done professionally, but usually at a cost that many teams can’t afford. This is why Krug outlines a few ways even small teams can implement usability testing to make their site better. 

Keep the testing plan simple.

Spend one morning a month doing usability testing—having three testers is ideal. Then debrief over the lunch break and decide what you and your team should fix before the next monthly test.

The reason Krug only recommends three testers per session is that the problems faced by a few users will most likely apply to many. And since the goal is to keep steadily improving, you don’t need to uncover all the problems in one testing session. The goal is simply to get actionable insights to improve your site every month.

Usually, you can recruit participants (from social media, Craigslist, etc.) for an incentive of about $50-100 for 1 hour.

During the testing, have as many observers of the tester as possible. It would be best to put them in a separate observation room where they can see the participant’s screen and hear what’s happening in the testing room. 

After each session, take a short break and get each observer to write down the top 3 usability problems they observed.

During the lunchtime debrief, have everyone share the top 3 problems they observed over the three testing sessions. Then, agree on the ten most serious issues and then rate each one on a scale of 1-10.

Often, the solution is to remove or simplify an existing item, not to add more stuff.

When it’s all said and done, it’s important to remember that even a little bit of testing is better than none, and the earlier on, the more time you and your team can save in the long run.

Why It Matters—Mobile and Accessibility

Another thing to consider when designing or redesigning a website is how it performs on mobile devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.). Though this is of greater importance now in 2020 than when the book was updated in 2013, Krug gives a few pieces of advice regarding mobile and accessible design.  

To start, it’s important to note that the principles for usability are generally similar for mobile and web. However, for mobile, you need to design for a much smaller screen, which will require tradeoffs or eliminating some elements.

One way, which is becoming increasingly common, is to start the entire design process for mobile users first, so you’re forced to choose only the most vital content and features, before adding more elements for the desktop version.

For mobile, you can immediately implement a few of these things to increase the usability of your mobile site: 

  • Allow zooming on your website (so users can view elements that are too small)
  • Ensure external links (emails, social media, etc.) bring users directly to relevant parts of the site
  • Give the option to view the full website instead of the mobile version
  • Make each element extremely clear (make things obviously clickable)
  • Make sure pages load quickly

On the topic of accessibility, Krug states that, ideally, desktop websites and mobile sites should be accessible for everyone, including those with disabilities. Even if you can’t afford to develop specifically for disability, you can start with these things. First, fix usability issues that affect everyone; second, try to include disabled users in your usability-tests; next, read up on web accessibility. 

Additionally, there are easier things to fix, such as adding alt text for every image, using appropriate headings, using forms that work with screen readers, and choosing a web template designed to be accessible.

No Better Time than the Present

At the end of the day, I highly recommend reading this book. There are countless insights and infographics that are helpful for beginners and professionals alike. 

Concerning website UX in the time of Covid-19, I would urge anyone looking to make their first site or looking to redesign their website not to wait. There is no telling if or when in-person, brick-and-mortar shopping will ever go back to ‘normal,’ having an attractive, usable, and revenue-generating website now is even more imperative.

Grab a copy of Don’t Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug

The book Don't Make Me Think Revisited

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

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 from 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 2013, “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 on how users find those pages: the navigation.

In the book, Krug likened the navigation of a website’s navigation 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:

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