There are a couple books (literally, two) that I find myself quoting from on a very regular basis. Today, I come to speak of the book that takes about an hour to read and years to fully assimilate.
But before I reveal the identity of this book, a question: when was the last time you started using a new application (for the sake of this blog, “applications” includes web sites) and felt like the architect of said application truly cared about your experience?
Speaking from personal experience, it never occurred to me why certain applications felt “better” and “worse” to use. Nor did I ask myself why frustrating applications had ended up being designed as they were. Now I reflect on both regularly, and the reason is Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
Before I go any further, I should probably throw in fair warning: after reading this book, my reaction to using poorly designed software has changed from a mix of frustration and confusion to simple anger. If I waste more than five minutes finding a basic piece of functionality in an application, this now generally leads to severe annoyance. There is a fair chance that you, too, will revile the authors of your poorly designed software after reading this book. Therefore, if you are a person of action with a strong sense of justice, think twice before reading a text this potent.
But if you think you can deal with the truth, here’s what you’ll learn:
The premise of the book centers around the fact that users are very busy people who have neither the time nor the will to give an application as much attention as designers think they will. Krug asserts that when encountering a new application, the human impulse is to scan a page in about 1-3 seconds, make a best guess what will get them where they want to go (in Krug’s words, “satisfice”), and muddle along from there. He points out that designers should take care not to waste users’ milliseconds through making unclear links or leave them stranded in an application without a clear sense of where they are. He goes on to do some exercises where the reader sees examples of well-organized sites (i.e., Amazon) and poorly organized sites (buy the book and see them).
What’s more, the book is chock full of pictures and great examples. As I’ve come to know other Internet entrepreneurs within the community, I have found myself repeatedly citing examples in this book, as it seems to take most applications at least an iteration or two before they can get enough user feedback to create a UI layout that makes sense. Without this book and a strong sense of responsibility to your user, an application can quite easily never get things right.
With this book explained, you can now look forward to hearing the exasperated tales of applications that drive me bonkers, like TopStyle. This application earned itself an express ticket to my bad side today when, after handily reporting files with CSS errors in them, it provides no clear path of how to fix (or even view) these errors. Clicking on a specific error in a list of errors just jumps directly to the top of the file that the error resides in, not to the error itself. Brilliant.