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  Necessary Reading:
Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

I've received many complements of the design of my Web pages, doctom.com and fergusonreport.com. And while my friend and Webmaster John Grohol is largely responsible, author Steve Krug deserves much of the credit. After several months of considering one design scheme or another, and reading half a dozen books on Web design, I read his book twice on a long plane ride. By the time we landed, I had completed detailed design drawings for both sites.

Most Web design books explain how your site should look. Steve Krug's focuses on how it should work. Don't Make Me Think is, among other things, a masterful crash course in the essential art of navigation design, providing insight after insight into what goes on on inside the heads of real average users as they attempt to navigate your site. And it is just as useful for the technologically challenged as it is for experienced Web designers.

The title says it all. As the author explains, "'Don't Make Me Think.' That means that as far as humanly possible, when I look at a Web page what the site offers and how everything works should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory. I should be able to "get it"—what it is and how to use it—without expending any effort thinking about it."

The book itself is a lovely example of this philosophy. It is open and accessible, clear and concise, simply but cleverly illustrated, and surprisingly enjoyable. You can find a sample chapter (along with other interesting and useful Steve Krug goodies) at www.sensible.com.

Selected Quotes from Don't Make Me Think:

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

One of the very few well-documented facts about Web use is that people tend to spend very little time reading most Web pages. Instead, we scan (or skim) them, looking for words or phrases that catch our eye.

The exception, of course, is pages that contain documents like news stories, reports, or product descriptions. But even then, if the document is longer than a few paragraphs, we're likely to print it out since it's easier and faster to read on paper than on a screen.

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

When we're designing pages, we tend to assume that users will scan the page, consider all of the available options, and choose the best one.

In reality, though, most of the time we don't choose the best option—we choose the first reasonable option, a strategy known as satisficing. As soon as we find a link that seems like it might lead to what we're looking for, there's a very good chance that we'll click it.

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

One of the things that becomes obvious as soon as you do any usability testing-whether you're testing Web sites, software, or household appliances-is the extent to which people use things all the time without understanding how they work, or with completely wrong-headed ideas about how they work.

Faced with any sort of technology, very few people take the time to read instructions. Instead, we forge ahead and muddle through, making up our own vaguely plausible stories about what we're doing and why it works.

Order this book now from Amazon.com.

Published in The Ferguson Report, Number 9, September 2002


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Copyright © 1999-2003 Tom Ferguson, M.D. The Ferguson Report is a free e-mail newsletter published at unpredictable intervals for the friends and associates of Tom Ferguson. ISSN 1520-5487