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Book review: Don’t Make Me Think


I’m something of a bookworm; my office is full of books about design, technology and every conceivable intersection of the two. One of the well-worn favorites on my shelf is Don’t Make Me Think, a book by Steve Krug, an expert on user-interface design.

In terms of books for this field, it’s an oldie — published in 2000 — but it’s a goodie and holds up extremely well. Don’t Make Me Think should be required textbook reading for any UI design or web/app programming course. (It certainly is for mine!)

The book is written specifically for web designers, but the lessons inside can apply to almost anyone. One of those universal lessons is that you should always be concise.

Krug suggests that all text and copy on your site — or within your app, by extension — should be as brief, but accurate, as possible. And true to his own suggestion, Krug does the same in his book: It’s an incredibly short book that’s deceptively dense with information.

There are two other lessons in the book I especially love. The first is to design like you’re designing a billboard: for scanning, not in-depth reading. Think of your users as less like computers that read every word to interpret it literally, and more like cavemen scanning the forest for nuts and berries — people scan for what’s relevant for them. Visitors may only glance at your words, so make them count.

(By the way, speaking of billboards: If you live in Chicago, you may have seen the one on the Stevenson with a huge QR code on it. The Illinois Department of Transportation actually had to issue a warning to drivers not to scan it while driving. Just another cautionary tale to think of your users before you start designing.)

The second lesson is that humans naturally put things in groups to gather their meaning. There’s so much instinct involved in UI! So you should always:

  • Create a clear visual hierarchy
  • Use conventions users are already comfortable with (i.e., don’t reinvent the wheel)
  • Divide pages into clearly defined areas of content
  • Make it obvious what’s clickable
  • Minimize noise, whether graphical or text-based

In short: In everything, keep it simple, sweetheart.

Don’t Make Me Think is one of those books you should always have on hand for a sanity check while you’re designing, and if you haven’t read it yet, grab yourself a copy and absorb every word. There aren’t many of them, and you’ll definitely be better for taking it all in.