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A No-Brainer

I had been recommended the book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug a few times in the last few years.  After all the chips had fallen and my 20s wound down to an end I found myself as a Creative Director with no creative training.  I have an undergrad Biological Anthropology degree and my last Masters was in media research.  Yet, along the way I had helped someone with a wordpress site here, edited a video there and in the end became a generalist in enough software packages to be functional enough to guide a research company’s creative direction.  I immediately jumped on the chance to read this book and find out its insights on functional website design so I could at least hold my own in conversations with my focus group moderating co-workers.  I had seen many sessions, but had never thought of myself as a usability expert like they were.

The first thing I noticed was the 2006 copyright.  While lolcats may have not changed that much in 6 years I am sure that functional websites have.  Maybe I should have read the book when it was released instead of around the time that it needs a new edition.  Still common sense hasn’t changed and therefore the approach should be the same.  Essentially the book says that people shut their brains down to a low roar and navigate the path of least resistance.  What this book hopes to provide is a break down of what those obstacles are that impede the flow of traffic to the end result (often a sale or a relevant article) and showcase web design conventions to facilitate these results.  The books begins with many quotes of praise saying that it practices what it preaches by being short and to the point.  I argue  otherwise.  How can a book repeat the same thing over and over again for 200 pages and be considered good.  Why make a slew of chapters about different parts of a webpage if your only suggestions/recommendations are to cut down all excess images and text and make things like like their functionality.

I feel like these tidbits of advice aren’t so groundbreaking since the advent of web 2.0.  People in my generation have embraced large striking photography and minimalist wordings.  The current trend is away from verbose blogging to succinct tweeting and image tumbling.  I understand that monolithic websites are still used and needed, but anyone making those sites would need more than this book by their side.  As a book for general lay people this one is only good for a quick browse over a coffee table, if only to laugh as they reference Yahoo as the major search engine of the web.

4 comments to A No-Brainer

  • Mack


    I think succinctness is also key to my experience on the web. When we made our ITP blogs, it was funny to see the selection of WordPress themes that we have at our disposal, and how much frivolous fluff is out there on the internet. I guess the comparison can be made to all design in the world: there’s a lot of stuff out there that is both non-functional and kinda ugly.

    Tumblr and Twitter are two examples of this succinctness also – and that everyone’s web “experience” is divided up into smaller and smaller packets of information like tweets and photos posted on tumblr. When I took comm lab web with Rune, the first sites we made were simple forms – black text with white background, and SUBMIT links. There’s something really pleasing about making a website that looks like that. It’s like the lightest, most basic form of the internet. I remember trying to make websites in middles school with things like Angelfire and live journal, and although they were fads just like tumblr and wordpress, there was something more badass about them – like you were more connected to the internet because the structure was more bare bones.

  • Mack

    …Oops I hit submit a little too early with that one.

    I was basically getting at the idea that there’s too much fluff on the internet. Facebook’s design is jammed and confused that it’s just turned into a junky pile of information. Jay and I were talking a few weeks ago about how your computer should be layed out like a book, with two windows opened like two pages, maybe this would be a better idea for websites that have a lot of content too. The websites that I’m drawn to are super minimal and not crammed with information. It’s a problem that magazine/journal/news websites have a lot I think. Simplicity is always key.

  • Peiqi "Su"

    A little surprise to read this post because I also held some not positive opinion to this book, which seems rear. Like Todd, I also hade been recommended this book many times during my collage. I did not even notice that this book was so popular in China that near all my teachers, dolleagues and classmates who are in the web design area have one in hand. “Don’t make me think” even became a basic principle of website design in China.

    However, from my point of view, this idea could hardly be applied widely or last a long time. The reason is that it emphasize fast or convenience too much and ignore the importance of the emotion and story telling in the process of interaction. As we know, emotions and stories are more attractive to human and could leave a deeper impression. Tasting a joy of discovering and get a little surprise make a nice web experience. Thus, “don’t make me think” may just apply to those websites which serve as tools, such as the stock website. It’s not a good idea to make a website concerning daily life, even a commercial website.

    Just use my own experience of web design as an example. Two years ago, I worked as the chief designer in a IT company, which is focused on website security and data monitoring. At first, we designed our website as simple as possible, so it looks professional and efficient to use. It was just as a normal technology website which is serious and cold. However, we found our product was also just as normal a professional tool used by website administrators or experts. No. We were making a tool for everyone have a website. Then, I changed our visual identity by trying to introduce an interesting and appropriate character into our product.Then A nut was used as our logo to replace the previous one, just simple letters. Also the website used more bright and worm color. We used image to visualize data as much as posible. We also hide the complex network terminology and keep words as simple as possible. Finally, the website had a sense of easy and joy, as well as simple and reliable. This made a big success. We achieve thousands of ordinary users within one month.

  • Todd Bryant

    That sounds like a difficult task, Su. I would worry that there may be a thing as too simple for a website unless you really want to hide the complexity of what’s happening from the user. Is it possible for a site to have so little content that it seems insignificant? If there is functions on a site they need to be apparent otherwise you’re making it harder to use the site than if all options were available and just cluttered.

    The main example of content that needs to be displayed is usually navigation. The user always needs to be able to get back home whether it is just clicking a home button or seeing a path which is a sort of breadcrumb trail. This is even more apparent when you’re navigating complex sites like Amazon that has a lot of categories.