Don’t Make Me Think – Book Review

Posted: August 21, 2006 Comments(9)

Usability is a subject, for one reason or another, that is often avoided by designers and developers. It is something that can’t be taught, or achieved by following a certain syntax, so many times it is looked at as an obstacle. In reality, it has a lot to do with common sense and looking at the bigger picture. Usability his highly subjective so it is important to be in the right frame of mind when analyzing it.

Don't Make Me Think Book Cover

I’ve recently completed Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, one of the few great publications on an uncommon subject. First and foremost I’d like to explain how much I enjoyed the writing style throughout the book. Krug doesn’t try to sound like he has a mystical understanding of usability, and he didn’t gear his book in a way that lets you feel like you’re getting a sneak peek into the secret formulas of usability and usability testing. This is one of those books that you should want to read, and when you’re done you want to loan it to all of your clients to have a quick glance over.

Why I Loved “Don’t Make Me Think”

The book strays away from using any statistics or figures because such things really don’t have all that much to do with usability. How usable something is varies from case to case and is more or less specific to each case. While you may begin to see trends of good usability or bad usability, each project in and of itself is unique.

Visual examples are provided when appropriate which make relating to the text much easier. The author not only points areas of improvements to specific designs, he provides an actual mock up of his solution and explains his reasoning behind each change. Having a resource such as that at your fingertips can be a great asset to anyone.

Many people who read the book think that it’s a bit of fluff and generally only states such obvious things you should already know. That isn’t the point. It explains why these common mistakes are thought to be acceptable, and then details the underlying problems. While I may have already had a small bit of knowledge on points brought up in the book, I often left the chapter having a better understanding of the ideas behind the method. It also helped me to have more knowledgeable responses when talking to clients about certain suggestions of theirs. A client is much more likely to understand losing viewers and therefore revenue due to bad usability decisions.

A decent section of this short book is spent on strategies for performing usability tests. Usability tests can be some of the most effective feedback you can get for any project. The book more or less outlines good strategies to keep in mind when performing affordable usability tests for any project. The author even provides you with a walk through of a small usability test giving notes on good questions to evoke more thoughtful answers from your subject.

My Overall Impression

All in all I thought Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug was an excellent read and I think every designer/developer should have a read. It’s a short book and as explained in the first few pages — that was the plan. The author wants people to actually read and use the book to its full potential and a 200 page book seems much more manageable than a 750 page manual in my opinion. Don’t go into reading the book thinking it is going to give you black and white answers, however. The book is designed to get you in the correct mindset to perform effective usability testing and take it into account to a higher degree in your projects. I think usability is a fascinating subject that will become all the more important as Web based applications continue to grow and websites continue to expand exponentially as they have.

Keep in Mind

It should be known that a Second Edition of “Don’t Make Me Think” has recently been published and it includes three new chapters since the first edition. If anyone has had the pleasure of reading the second edition, please feel free to comment on the chapters that have since been included.

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  1. I’m glad you posted this review, this book has been lying around my office for a while now and I didn’t bother taking a look because it was sitting beside Jakob Neilsen’s Homepage Usability circa 2001, haha. Now that I know it’s worthwhile I’ll definitely have to read it.

  2. A great book by all measures. Did you read the revised edition?

    Steve Krug has a way of showing you the very obvious that you tend to miss, go figure 🙂

  3. I have heard nothing but good things about this book and I still have not read it.

    I do agree, usability issues are many times the pink elephant in the room for designers and developers. You get the “but it looks good” or “but it works well” argument from many, including myself. Regardless, we’re making these sites for other people and that should be the highest concern.

    Nice read. 🙂

  4. Good post. Usability is one of the most important aspects of any site, but since there is no specific way to achieve it, it can often be overlooked in the general scheme of things. How would you define your “mindset” when performing effective usability testing?

  5. I read this book sometime last year and I remember how quickly I read it.. very simple, fast read. Great content too. I like how he went through various sites and pointed out their good/bad parts.

  6. @beth: That’s great — I would definitely say to give it a quick read. It’s only a couple hundred pages so you can even read it in an afternoon.

    @Miha: Unfortunately I haven’t. I only had the first edition in my collection but I will more than likely get my hands on the second edition as soon as I can.

    @P.J.: Absolutely give it a look over in your spare time. That’s one of the best things about this book, it’s short, sweet, and to the point.

    @Leah: When I had mentioned your ‘mindset when performing effective usability testing’ I was talking about how the author gives you insight as to what you could be thinking about in order to evoke a better response from your test subject. How to ask the right questions and how to make them feel comfortable enough to think out loud as much as possible.

    @Paul: Yes that was probably one of my favorite features also. He didn’t bash the design, simply offered a critique and a visual solution along with an explanation of his actions. I really liked that aspect also.

  7. This book is still the gold standard for usability for me. I am tempted to throw out the “What if I . . .” then check myself by thinking about the ramifications of veering away from general usability standards as outlined by Steve Krug, and then decide whether I want viewers to remain for a legit viewing session or turnaway en mass . . . it makes you more creative — usability AND creativity makes you work a bit harder for more substantive content.

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