Don’t Make Me Think - A Book on Usability

Don't Make Me Think Book Cover

If you are in the market for a gorgeous and to-the-point fully illustrated book on web and mobile usability design, then Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is probably one for your shelf.  This is Krug’s 3rd edition of the book, with the previous two out in 2000 and 2006.  He works as a usability consultant and considers what he teaches to be common sense, of course it’s only common once it’s pointed out.

It’s a quick read, under 200 pages and lots of illustrations, it’s hard to believe it was written by a usability consultant due to how usable and approachable it is.

He makes no hard and fast rules instead offers some guiding principles along the way with great examples of good, usable designs.

Usability is defined as

  • Useful: Does it do something people need done?
  • Learnable: Can people figure out how to use it?
  • Memorable: Do they have to relearn it each time they use it?
  • Effective: Does it get the job done?
  • Efficient: Does it do it with a reasonable amount of time and effort?
  • Desirable: Do people want it?
  • Delightful: Is using it enjoyable, or even fun?

The title of the book is nearly enough to convey the meaning and contents, from a user’s perspective: Don’t Make Me Think!  It’s also his First Law of Usability.  A page should be self-evident, obvious, and self-explanatory.  Considering that most people don’t actually read a webpage, they scan it.

If no one is reading your site, it’s best to design it more like a:


And by Billboard, he means, sticking to conventions, to-the-point options and language, hierarchy, and above all else: Clarity trumps Consistency. Aside from clearly defined areas and hierarchy, all links should be clearly clickable, and not because of a on-hover icon change; that doesn’t work on mobile.  Text should be formatted to support scanning.  Proper headers, short sentences and bold when necessary.

Krug referencesLetting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish as a MUST READ for anyone produce any online content.  Which I just ordered and will be reviewing shortly.  The Third Law of Usability: Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.  In practice, trimming down your content to 1/4 is not practical, though 1/2 should be and the remaining 1/2 should be fighting to be there.

The fewer words per page, the more powerful those words are.  Keep instructions so short they appear non-existent and abolish any fluffy-happy talk words, also called small-talk or elevator talk.


A site without a map, or a usable navigation bar is unusable, which is good since it’ll save on hosting costs.  Hierarchies are good, they provide a clear and present understanding of of the content and let users browse.  Half of your users are wanting to search though, not browse, so a simple, easy search bar is also mandatory if you have anything other than a skeleton site.

Every page should have your site-id and navigation, well, nearly every page.  Pages for signing up, ordering, or any such form that needs filled out, should not have the typical navigation bar, this helps keep the user present and engaged….squirrel!

Page names, like street signs in LA should be large and present, oh, and match the link you selected to get to said page.  And like Hansel and Gretel, drop breadcrumbs as one navigates down.  If all of this seems common sense and standard, it’s because it is.  Seldom should a designer stray from the tried-and-true methods that work, unless it’s a specialty site.  People come to your site to get something done, don’t let different for the sake of different get in their way.

Navigation Tabs

They’re amazing, use them, they pop.

Example of HTML navigation Tabs

Trunk Test

To know if your site’s navigation and identification is any good, take a cue from the Goodfellas and go in blindfolded in a trunk.  Or, for a simpler approach, choose any random page and print it.  Hold it out at arms length and quickly as possible try to find and circle the following:

  • Site ID
  • Page Name
  • Sections (Primary Navigation)
  • Local Navigation
  • You are here” indicator(s)
  • Search

It’s probably best to ask someone who didn’t design the site and doesn’t dream about it while waiting for the 11th floor elevator.

Home Page

Your site’s home page is the most important page, it gets the most views and any link or content will get the most eyes.  This is why everyone who has any say will want their content and links prominently displayed here.  Do everything possible to throw it all away.

For some people, your home page is the ONLY opportunity you have to tell what your company does, a tag line does a good job of this.  A clean message should have the following:

  • Tagline: pithy phrase that characterizes the whole enterprise
  • Welcome Blurb: terse description of the site
  • Learn More: Enhanced explanation when necessary

To paraphrase Einstein, “use as much space as necessary, but not one bit more”.   Okay, it’s a bad paraphrase from the original “that everything must be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.”  The idea is sound though.

Usability Paradox

Designers tend to get caught in a usability paradox:

Everybody Hates X”

Everybody Loves X”

There is no average user, they are all unique.  Many of the debates surrounding the Usability Paradox are simply religious debates which eventually turn into an appeal to authority.  Krug recommends focusing not on whether Everybody Loves/Hates X, but whether X makes sense in this context of your site.

Often regardless of X, an actual usability test (or many small ones) will help uncover whether X is a good fit or not.  Usability Tests are not Focus Groups, they are a chance to get your product in front of someone who doesn’t know much about it, and see how they flounder or flourish.  A monthly session of 1-3 people for an hour each is plenty to keep the team busy for the rest of the month.

Usability Test sessions should be recorded and a facilitator helping to guide the testing subject.  The book has an example script to help the facilitator avoid leading the subject with biased questions.  After a session, force rank the problems found and identify which ones should be fixed this month.


The above may sound obvious, but often low-hanging fruit sounds even sweeter.  The author has this maxim for a reason: it best improves usability.

On The Road

As your site goes mobile, little changes in terms of usability.  However, due to limited screen real-estate, it’s common for a mobile version of a site to have a reduced feature set.  Often deeper levels are fine as long as the user is constantly reminded that the information they desire is just a few more taps away.

Speaking of taps, there are no cursors on mobile, so not on-hover tool-tips, or changing cursors.  Everything must be spelled out.  Above all else, when going mobile:



Each visitor to your site comes with a tank of goodwill.  Annoyances will drain that good will, and easy-of-use will keep it topped off or refill.  Some common forms of goodwill draining include:

  • Hiding info - Pricing, Phone Numbers, etc
  • Requiring data to be entered in a specific format
  • Requesting unneeded/useless information
  • Faux Customer Support
  • Bloated marketing between user and content they want
  • An amateurish looking site.

On the alternative note, great goodwill enhancers include:

  • Knowing why people are there and letting them do it right away
  • Upfront about potentially bad news - shipping costs, parking fees, etc
  • Saving Steps - purchase email that contains a link to UPS website with tracking number already entered
  • Obvious Effort - Good problem solving tips/tools
  • FAQ that’s actually useful and not marketing materials
  • Creature Comforts like printer-friendly pages
  • Good Error Recovery
  • Sympathetic when the experience sucks but there’s nothing you can do about it.


The Number 1 thing you can do to make your site accessible to those with disabilities is to make it as easy as possible for those without disabilities.  A blind person will have a harder time with a page error than someone who can read.  Fix as many usability issues as you can and you will be miles ahead in the accessibility department.

However, just a good, usable site isn’t quite enough.  Smart design can make the site both accessible without hurting usability.  There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit to start off with: proper alt tags for images, keywords at the start of a sentence, “Skip to Main Content” at the beginning of each page, etc.

Guide for the Perplexed

As great as it is for a Usability Expert to want to do Usability testing and improve the user’s experience on the site, getting management approval can be daunting depending on your organization.  The best advice Krug offers is to:

  • Demonstrate ROI - show that an investment in usability will affect the bottom line
  • Speak their language - Focus on Key Performance Indicators, Customer Satisfaction Index, or whatever other metrics your management follows.  Translate usability into their language
  • Get your management and your managements management to watch a usability test, it’ll be eye opening all around.


For such a quick book, Kurg offers a lot of usable usability advice.  This book is more like a book funnel, at least 5 other great recommendations for the usability expert to continue down this rabbit hole.  For the causal blogger, or developer working with a UX person, this book offers plenty of great practical advice.  Feel free to check out any of the other books I’ve covered in my Readings section.