Don’t Make Me Think

The book “Don’t Make Me Think” made me do the exact opposite: think.  (Hence the sad confused face.)

Perhaps that wasn’t the book’s intention, but it did. After close to 200 pages of explaining how to make things so simple that people don’t need to expend any effort thinking, the book made simplicity almost seem not worth the “simplicity”.

Don’t make people think. If only it were so easy…

It’s all about usability.  If there were one word to describe the premise of the book, it’s usability.  Get rid of the question marks for users.  It’s a valid point, given the wacky nature of the world wide web.  If your website does not quickly satisfy visitors’ needs, there is no reason why they won’t instantly click the X button and/or backtrack to another site. Love or hate it, the web makes it incredibly easy for users to make an exit as quickly as they entered.

This is why creating a site that administers to the fact that humans are typically in a hurry and don’t have time to figure out how things work, will make for a more effective website.  I found Chapter 2’s insight into human psychology the most interesting part of the book.  Ironic from a book all about not making people think.  Nonetheless, there are important insights, “facts of life”, to gain:

We don’t read pages. We scan them. aka we don’t have time to spare.

– We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice. aka we guess and stumble upon things.

– We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through. aka we find our own way.

These insights form the basis of how we should construct our sites.  The book suggests that we keep things short and sweet when designing our pages since our brains aren’t conditioned to do more than scan anyway.  In line with that assumption, we should create a visual hierarchy, break pages into clearly defined areas, and make what’s clickable very obvious.  That makes sense.  It also makes sense to omit needless words because…well, no one is going to read more than they need.

The book likens a search on a web to a search at a department store. However, unlike a department store customer, a web user has no sense of scale, direction, or location- a good and bad thing.  The practical result is that it’s hard to know when we have seen everything of interest on a site.  Essentially, it’s hard to know when to stop looking.  This is when web navigation tools come in handy.

“Don’t Make Me Think” offers practical rules to follow when building effective navigation tools.  There are 5 elements that a persistent navigation bar should always include.  These are things that appear on every page of a site.

– site id

– sections

– a way home

– a way to search

– utilities

These help simplify the search for the user.  It also gives instant confirmation to the user that he/she is still on the same site, tracking the path it took to reach their current virtual location.  The book calls this path the “breadcrumb” path.

A well-designed site will be simple to navigate for even the most beginning of computer users.  It will answer the following questions with ease:

What site is this? What page am I on? What are the major sections of this site? What are my options at this level? Where am I in the scheme of things? How can I search?

As I turned the last page of “Don’t Make Me Think” thoughts churned through my head for my own website.  I wasn’t sure where to start. One thing is for sure: I have a lot to think about.

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