Posted: Apr 21, 2010
By: Dhwanit | 0 comments
Category: Design


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Don't make me think!

I came across this book that was first published back in 2001 that spoke about website usability. According to the author Steve Krug, the most fundamental usability rule is "Don't make me think."  A lot has changed in the last ten years, including browser technology improvements, better last mile connectivity, an explosive growth in broadband access and larger screen resolutions. However, this rule is as absolutely relevant today, as it was ten years ago.

What exactly does "don't make me think" mean? It means that as far as possible, when someone looks at a web page, he or she should intuitively be able to start using it with minimal thought or effort. The web page should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory.

Making a web page self-evident isn't as difficult as you might think it to be. People are conditioned to using the web, having browsed hundreds of websites over the years, they have subconsciously picked up universally accepted elements of web design. As long as your website's design follows similar principles, your users will a pleasant experience browsing through its pages.

Take for example, clicking on website logo. Most of us are so used to clicking on the logo to return to the homepage that if it doesn't work, or takes us to some other page, there is a bit of confusion... and that makes us think!

Similarly, having a logout or sign out link accessible from the top-right corner of the page is also embedded in our subconscious. Which website was the first to put this on the top-right corner is irrelevant. What's important is that quite a few of the websites we use on a day-to-day basis keep their sign-out link accessible from somewhere in the top-right region of the page.


Signout or logout button on top-right of web pages

Elements that make us think

A website is a fusion of so many different things. They contain text, images, animation, audio, video, forms, menus, popups or a combination thereof. A whole bunch of things on any website makes us pause and think. They may be associated with visual depiction of certain elements. Or be associated with clever sounding names that are not immediately apparent.

An example mentioned in the book on a scale of "obvious" to "requires thought" is when someone is scanning a company page for a list of jobs.

  • If a link says "Jobs" it is self-evident. Click.
  • If the link states "Employment Opportunites" then the user thinks for a fraction of a second before understanding it to mean "Jobs." Click.
  • If the link says "Work with us," there's a significantly longer pause for thought. The user is thinking 'Hmmm... Will that link take me to a list of jobs available or would it take me to a partner page? Should I click to find out?'
  • Its worse if a link says "Job-o-Rama." The user will have no earthly idea what that means. It may be used commonly within your organization but its not going to be obvious for a user looking for a job in your company.

Take another example: A choice of visual elements displayed on a web page, whose functionality is to mimic a button. If you were faced with these four choices, which one would you click immediately?

Having a user in the third, or the fourth situation above, isn't conducive to the website's usability. Its a sure-shot way of losing the user's interest very quickly.

Designing for the average user

Not everything on your website can be self-evident. Depending on your business needs, or your website's goals, helpful tips can be inserted into the layout as text, videos, popups etc., for the user to refer to, and help focus his or her thoughts towards effective usage of your website. This makes the website self-explanatory.

Some users spend a surprisingly long time fighting with, and figuring out a website that's frustrating them. They tend to blame themselves for their inability to use the site, instead of blaming the site's obtruse design! It may be because they spent a considerable amount of time finding your site in the first place, or they may not know of any alternative. Starting over isn't always attractive in these cases.

The average Internet user will give your website a chance. He or she will spend a reasonable amount of time in understanding its functionality and figuring out how to use it. Its these users, an overwhelming majority of web surfers, that your website should cater to. Make their stay comfortable. Let them have a pleasant experience. Having a well designed, well thought out, self-evident or self-explanatory website for the average Internet user should be your company's goal. We at WebrMedia follow Steve's advice on all the websites we design... don't make the user think.

I will end this post with a few words from the book: "Making pages that are obvious is like having good lighting in a store: it just makes everything seem better. Using a site that doesn't make us think about unimportant things feels effortless, whereas puzzling over things that don't matter to us tends to sap our energy and enthusiasm - and time."


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