September 22, 2021

Don’t Make Me Think

I read Don’t make me think by Steve Krug for the first time a few years ago, but this year it was the literature for one of my courses in school. To be perfectly honest, I came at it with a bit of skepticism. The title itself seemed to suggest to me an ethos of trying to bypass people’s rational thinking in order to get them to behave a certain way. This seemed to me very much in line with my recent research into manipulation and ethics and made my reading of it almost hostile, and then I got into it.

The first thing that caught me when I started reading this book was the straightforward, irreverent, and self-deprecating tone in which the book is written. Nothing like a bit of self-awareness and snark to get to my heart. And then the author defined usability that deviates from the ones I commonly hear at conferences and blog posts, and I continued reading with an open mind.

A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth.

Steve Krug. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited (Voices That Matter)

The book provides several very useful tips and knowledge about accessibility and usability, which might be of some interest to the average person and most likely known territory for UI/UX designers, but what is noteworthy and novel about it, is its understanding of some of the most common issues with building sites and what he describes as religious debates.

I usually call these endless discussions “religious debates,” because they have a lot in common with most discussions of religion and politics: They consist largely of people expressing strongly held personal beliefs about things that can’t be proven—supposedly in the interest of agreeing on the best way to do something important (whether it’s attaining eternal peace, governing effectively, or just designing Web pages). And, like most religious debates, they rarely result in anyone involved changing his or her point of view.

Steve Krug. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited (Voices That Matter)

Another great highlight of the book that transcends specific design and development tips is the sub chapter dedicated to the myth of the Average User, a concept already familiar to those of us who work in the accessibility space. And the author dedicates an entire section to accessibility as a basic tenant of usability.

The myth of the Average User The belief that most Web users are like us is enough to produce gridlock in the average Web design meeting. But behind that belief lies another one, even more insidious: the belief that most Web users are like anything.

Steve Krug. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited (Voices That Matter)

Another interesting concept brought forth by the author is the idea that a website needs to be considerate of users, as he calls it being a mensch (from the Yiddish term roughly translating to being a stand-up person).

But there’s another important component to usability: doing the right thing—being considerate of the user. Besides “Is my site clear?” you also need to be asking, “Does my site behave like a mensch?”

Steve Krug. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited (Voices That Matter)

This idea really resonates with me, because it is my main approach to designing and developing, being considerate of the visitor’s experience, access and privacy. Understanding there is no “average user” and “edge cases”, understanding that our backgrounds inform our personal beliefs and make us prone to heuristic biases when developing and making development decisions.

And that suggestive title I was skeptical about? Well, it turns out “Don’t make me think” is not about bypassing rational capabilities of a website visitor at all, it’s about lowering cognitive load and making the site easy and accessible for everyone. And to finish it all up, he wraps the book with a much needed reflection on the role usability can play on manipulation and “The Dark Side”.

Usability is, at its heart, a user advocate job: Like the Lorax, you speak for the trees. Well, the users, actually. Usability is about serving people better by building better products.

Steve Krug. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited (Voices That Matter)