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My brain hurts, and it’s your fault

Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability has long been one of my favourite books about website design and management, and should be read by everyone involved in online marketing. Originally written back in 2000, the principles were so good that much of the content could remain in place for the 2013 update which you can read today.

Perhaps its most inspired idea is the title. “Don’t Make Me Think” is something that should be uppermost in all our minds at every stage of website design. If the user has to think, it allows them the chance to do something you don’t want them to do – including give up completely. It’s essential to put yourself in the mind of the user, take them quickly to what they came for, and then make what you want the painless and logical next step.

Simple, right?

Clearly not, because most websites fail at this hopelessly. One new industrial website which I saw last week had been beautifully executed, but fell down at the first step. On the home page, it required the visitor to choose whether they wanted products from one division of the company or the other. In other words, it made them think. Visitors hadn’t arrived expecting to be asked to identify themselves; they’d arrived to find out about a particular product. Instantly, the friction-free process which probably started with typing the supplier’s name into Google had been rudely interrupted.

I’m not suggesting this would have made visitors give up. But by sending them down one unexpected silo, they’d constantly have in the back of their minds that they might have missed something relevant down the other one.

You may look at your own website and think that you’ve avoided this, that all the visitor’s expected choices are available on the home page. But are they? In many cases, they’re hidden inside menu systems, forcing visitors to think: should I click on the “Products” tab, or the “Markets” one, or the “Applications” …or hang on, what’s this? In other words, making them think.

Don’t Make Me Think (Revisited): A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug is published by New Riders (ISBN-13: 978-0321965516).