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  • Writer's pictureJulia W

Don't make me think by Steve Krug

My thoughts

I categorized this book as UX 101. It's a great book for people to get their feet wet in UX, and a great book for people who're too deep into design and need a refresher class.


  • Usability is about people and how they understand and use things, not about technology.

  • In the last few years, making things more usable has become almost everybody’s responsibility.

  • If it’s short, it’s more likely to actually be used.

  • I find that most valuable contributions I make to each project always come from keeping just a few key usability principles in mind.

  • I’ve been at this for a long time, long enough to know that there is no one “right” answer to most usability questions. Design is complicated process and the real answer to most of the questions people ask me is “It depends."

  • Usability is useful, learnable, memorable, effective, efficient, desirable and delightful

  • 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.

Chapter 1

  • “Don’t make me think!”

  • It’s the overriding principle - the ultimate tie breaker when deciding whether a design works or it doesn’t.

  • … every question mark adds to our cognitive workload, distracting our attention from the task at hand.

  • If you can’t make something self-evident, you at least need to make it self-explanatory.

  • … most people are going to spend far less time looking at the page we design than we’d like to imagine.

Chapter 2

  • … we tend to think that our behavior is much more orderly and sensible than it really is.

  • Fact of life #1: We don’t read pages. We scan them.

    • … we tend to focus on words and phrases that seem to match

      • The task at hand

      • Our current or ongoing personal interests

      • The trigger words that are hardwired into our nervous systems, like “Free,” “Sale,” and “Sex,” and our own name.

  • Fact of life #2: We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.

    • In reality, though, most of the time we don’t choose the best option - we choose the first reasonable option, a strategy known as satisfying.

    • … generally accepted model of rational decision making: Faced with a problem, a person gathers information, identifies the possible solutions, and chooses the best one. They started with the hypothesis that because of the high stakes and extreme time pressure, fire captains would be able to compare only two options, an assumption they thought was conservative. As it turned out, the fire commanders didn’t compare any options. They took the first reasonable plan that came to mind and did a quick mental test for possible problems. If they don’t find any, they had their plan of action.

  • Fact of life #3: We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

    • … people use things all the time without understanding how they work

    • And it’s a good question: If people manage to muddle through so much, does it really matter whether they “get it”? The answer is that it matters a great deal because while muddling through may work sometimes, it tends to be inefficient and error-prone.

Chapter 3.

  • Design for scanning, not reading.

  • Take advantage of conventions

    • Our problem with conventions, though: Designers are often reluctant to take advantage of them.

    • If you’re going to innovate, you have to understand the value of what you’re replacing.

    • If you’re not going to use an existing Web convention, you need to be sure that what you’re replacing it with either

      • Is so clear and self-explanatory that there’s no learning curve - so it’s as good as the convention

      • Adds so much value that it’s worth a small learning curve

    • My recommendation: Innovate when you know you have a better idea, but take advantage of conventions when you don’t.

    • Clarity trumps consistency. If you can make something significantly clearer by making it slightly inconsistent, choose in favor of clarity.

  • Create effective visual hierarchies

  • Break pages up into clearly defined areas

  • Make it obvious what’s clickable

  • Eliminate distractions

  • Format content to support scanning

Chapter 4

  • It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is mindless, unambiguous choice.

Chapter 5

  • Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.

  • Omit needless words

  • Happy talk must die

  • Instruction must die

Chapter 6

  • If you choose to browse, you make your way through a hierarchy, using signs to guide you.

  • The overlooked purposes of navigation

    • … It gives us confidence in the people who built it. Clear, well-though-out navigation is one of the best opportunities a site has to create a good impression.

  • Just having the navigation appear in the same place on every page with a consistent look gives you instant confirmation that your’e still in the same site - which is more important than you might think.

  • On pages where a form needs to be filled in, the persistent navigation can sometimes be an unnecessary distraction. For instance, when I’m paying for my purchases on an e-commerce site, you don’t really want me to do anything but finish filling in the forms. The same is true when I’m registering, subscribing, giving feedback, or checking off personalization preferences.

  • Utilities are the links to important elements of the site that aren’t really part of the content hierarchy. These are things that either can help me use the site (like Sign in/Register, Help, a Site Map, or a Shopping Cart) or provide information about its publisher (like About Us and Contact Us).

  • As a rule, the persistent navigation can accommodate only four or five Utilities - the ones users are likely to need most often.

  • Most common problems in web design: failing to give the lower-level navigation the same attention as the top.

  • It’s vital to have sample pages that show the navigation for al the potential levels of the site before you start arguing about the color scheme.

  • 4 things to know about the page name

    • Every page needs a name

    • The name needs to be in the right place

    • The name needs to be prominent.

    • The name needs to match what I clicked.

  • Breadcrumb. They’re most useful in a large site with a deep hierarchy.

    • Put them at the top

    • Use > between levels

    • Boldface the last item

  • If the page is well designed, when your vision clears you should be able to answer these questions without hesitation:

    • What site is this? (Site ID)

    • What page am I on? (Page name)

    • What are the major sections of this site? (Sections)

    • What are my options at this level? (Local navigation)

    • Where am I in the scheme of things? ("You’re here” indicators)

    • How can I search?

  • Here’s how you perform the trunk test:

    • Step 1: Choose a page anywhere in the site at random, and print it.

    • Step 2: Hold it at arm’s length or squint so you can’t really study it closely.

    • Step 3: As quickly as possible, try to find and circle each of these items:

      • Site ID

      • Page name

      • Sections (primary navigation)

      • Local navigation

      • “You’re here” indicator(s)

      • Search

Chapter 7: The Big Bang Theory of Web Design

  • The one thing you can’t afford to lose in the shuffle - and the thing that most often gets lost - is conveying the big picture.

  • As quickly and clearly as possible, the Home page needs to answer the 4 questions I have in my head:

    • What is this?

    • What can I do here?

    • What do they have here?

    • Why should I be here - and not somewhere else?

  • The first few seconds you spend on a new web site or web page are critical.

  • 3 important places on the page where we expect to find explicit statements of what the site is about:

    • The tagline: conveys value proposition

    • The welcome blurb

    • The “Learn more."

  • After quick look around the homepage, I should be able to say:

    • Here’s where to start if I want to search

    • Here’s where to start if I want to browse

    • Here’s where to start if I want to sample their best stuff

Chapter 8: “The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends”

  • The myth of the Average User As soon as the clash of personal and professional opinions results in a statement, the conversation usually turns to finding some way (whether it’s the opinion of an outside expert, published research, a survey, or focus groups) to determine what most users like or don’t like - to figure out what the Average Web User is really like. The only problem is, theere is no Average User.

  • All web users are unique and all web use is basically idiosyncratic.

  • The more you watch users carefully and listen to them articulate their intentions, motivations, and thought processes, the more you realize that their individual reactions to Web pages are based on so many variables that attempts to describe users in terms of one-dimensional likes and dislikes are futile - and counter-productive.

  • There’s really one one way to answer that kind of question: testing. There’s no substitute for it.

Chapter 9: Usability testing on 10 cents a day

  • Sadly, though, this is still how a lot of suability testing gets done: too little, too late, and for all the wrong reasons.

  • Focus groups are good for quickly getting a sampling of users’ feelings and opinions about things.

  • True things about usability testing:

    • If you want a great site, you’ve got to test.

    • Testing one user is 100% better than testing none.

    • Testing one user early in project is better than testing 50 near the end.

  • Do it yourself usability testing

  • Introduce usability day in the routine

  • How often should you test?

    • Every web development team should spend one morning a month doing usability testing.

    • In the morning, you can test 3 users, then debrief over lunch. That’s it. When you leave the debriefing, the team will have decide what you’re going to fix before the next round of testing, and you’ll be done with testing for the month.

    • You might be testing with 2 users every 2 weeks. Creating a fixed schedule and sticking to it is what’s important.

    • It frees you from deciding when to test.

    • The purpose of this kind of testing isn’t to prove anything. The result is actionable insights, not proof.

  • Recruit loosely and grade on a curve

  • I'm in favor of always using some participants who aren't from your target audience, for three reasons:

    • It's usually not a good idea to design a site so that only your target audience can use it.

    • We're all beginners under the skin.

    • Experts are rarely insulted by something that is clear enough for beginners.

  • Who should do the testing? Choose someone who tends to be patient, calm, empathetic, and a good listener.

  • A typical one-hour test would be broken down something like this:

    • Welcome (4 mins)

    • The questions (2 mins). Next your ask the participant a few questions about themselves. This helps put them at ease and gives you an idea of how computer-savvy and web-savvy they are.

    • The homepage tour (3 mins)

    • The tasks (35 mins)

    • Probing (5 mins)

    • Wrapping up (5 mins)

  • Participants aren't designers.

Chapter 10

  • Don't hide your affordances under a bushel

  • definitions of usability: useful, learnable, memorable, effective, efficient, desirable and delightful.

  • Delightful apps usually come from marrying an idea about something people would really enjoy being able to do, but don't imagine is possible, with a bright idea about how to use some new technology to accomplish it.

Chapter 11

  • Know the main things that people want to do on your site and make them obvious and easy

Chapter 12. Accessibility and you

  • How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people's lives just by doing our job a little better?

  • our design processes need to be updated to include thinking about accessibility from the beginning.

  • "Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work with Screen Readers."

  • A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery. (Their approach: "Good UX equals good accessibility. Her's how to do both.")

  • Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et al. ("Here are the laws and regulations, and we'll help you understand how to meet them.")

  • Go for the low-hanging fruit

    • Add appropriate alt text to every image

    • Use headings correctly.

    • Make your forms work with screen readers

    • Put a "Skip to Main Content" link at the beginning of each page

    • Make all content accessible by keyboard

    • Create significant contrast between your text and background

    • Use an accessible template

Chapter 13. Guide for the perplexed

  • Here are the two suggestions I've always heard for convincing management to support (and fund) usability works:

    • Demonstrate ROI. There's an excellent book about it: Cross-justifying Usability: An Update for the Internet Age

    • Speak their language

  • Get your boss (and her boss) to watch a usability test

  • It's important to get them to come in person.

  • Live games create memorable experiences

  • Do the first one on your own time.

  • Then test it, fix it and publicize it.

  • Do a test of the competition. It's a good idea to test some competitive sites at the start of any project.

  • Empathize with management.

    • Empathy is virtually a professional requirement for usability work.

  • Know your place in the grand scheme of things.

    • your primary role should be to share what you know, not to tell people how things should be done.

  • I'd recommended two books that can help.

    • Tomer Sharon's It's Our Research: Getting Stakeholder Buy-In for User Experience Research Projects.

    • Leah Buley's The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide is written specifically for people who are "the only person in your company practicing (or aspiring to practice) user centered design" or who "regularly work on a team where you're the only UX person."

  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It's brilliant and effective, full of time-proven ideas.

  • "How to Get People to Do Stuff": Master the art and science of persuasion and motivation.

  • You may get a sense during a test session that the participant finds something desirable, but it's just that: a sense.

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