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10 Usability Lessons from Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think

Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think”

Many people in the usability community regard Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition as the laypersons usability bible. This book explains briefly and concisely everything one needs to know about getting started with web usability. For more advanced users, it’s a great refresher course.

UX Booth has been open for more than half a year now, and when we started I was always regarded as the layperson of the group. After getting all serious about usability, I’ve re-read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think and pulled out what I consider to be the most insightful and best thoughts in this book.

I highly recommend picking up a copy if you get a chance, but here are some things to think about in the meantime. Some are simple and straightforward but worth remembering, some are just phrased beautifully, and some will make you think.

The Lessons

  1. Usability Means…

    Usability means making sure something works well, and that a person of average ability or experience can use it for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.

  2. Web applications should explain themselves.

    As far as humanly possible, when I look at a web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory.

  3. Don’t Make Me Think

    As a rule, people don’t like to puzzle over how to do things. If people who build a site don’t care enough to make things obvious it can erode confidence in the site and its publishers.

  4. Don’t waste my time

    Much of our web use is motivated by the desire to save time. As a result, web users tend to act like sharks. They have to keep moving or they’ll die.

  5. Users still cling to their back buttons

    There’s not much of a penalty for guessing wrong. Unlike firefighting, the penalty for guessing wrong on a website is just a click or two of the back button. The back button is the most-used feature of web browsers.

  6. We’re creatures of habit

    If we find something that works, we stick to it. Once we find something that works — no matter how badly — we tend not to look for a better way. We’ll use a better way if we stumble across one, but we seldom look for one.

  7. No Time for Small Talk

    Happy talk is like small talk – content free, basically just a way to be sociable. But most Web users don’t have time for small talk; they want to get right to the beef. You can – and should – eliminate as much happy talk as possible.

  8. Don’t lose search

    Some people (search-dominant users), will almost always look for a search box as they enter a site. These may be the same people who look for the nearest clerk as soon as they enter a store.

  9. We form mental site-maps

    When we return to something on a Web site, instead of replying on a physical sense of where it is, we have to remember where it is in the conceptual hierarchy and retrace our steps.

  10. Make it easy to go home

    Having a home button in sight at all times offers reassurance that no matter how lost I may get, I can always start over, like pressing a Reset button or using a “Get out of Jail free” card.

What are your words of wisdom?

So what words of wisdom on Usability do you have? What are the best books about Usability that you have read?

About the Author

Redd Horrocks

Redd Horrocks hails from South East England. She moved to Atlanta at the age of eighteen and has enjoyed her life here ever since. She has a degree in Communications and Media Studies and now works in Professional Theatre Administration. She is also a Freelance Writer and runs Distilled Rose, a personal finance blog. Redd also contributes to or manages four other blogs with topics ranging from Personal Finance to Vegetarian Cuisine.


  • garymcginty Reply

    Good post,
    great reviews on Amazon for this book.
    Do you have other recommendations for the top 5 books in this area

  • Nicholas Z. Cardot Reply

    Nice advice. I’ve only recently come into hearing the term ‘usability’ and already I feel like I am growing in my grasp of it. Your site is the perfect example so you are the perfect person to talk about this topic. It’s well laid out and very easy to navigate. Thanks!

  • Ferdy Reply

    “Don’t make me think” is great, however I liked “Prioritizing web usability” much better, since it contains tons of screenshots and real world advise based on factual research. If you read both books, you’ll have a pretty steady base for understanding and applying usability guidelines.

  • X3 Reply

    Indeed coined the expression “it’s not rocket surgery” & “It’s not brain science” many are oblivious to these mixed up but very well rearraged to express usability terms…

    I recommend the books that Steve Krug’s book “Dont make me think” has on it’s back pages.

    Look for similar here

  • Eduardo Sasso Reply

    We’re definitely creatures of habit, i’ve seem people doing very simple things in a very complicated way just because it works and they never looked back to see how they could improve the process.

  • Simon Reply

    Nice summary from a book every digital designer should read …

    One or two spelling mistakes in the article though, maybe number 11 should be use a spell checker?! ;o)

  • Aaron Irizarry Reply

    Great round of of points, from a great book! Will be looking forward to you other recommended reading in this field.

    ~ Aaron I

  • Gonzalo González Mora Reply

    I agree with Ferdy, to me, “Prioritizing Web Usability” by Jakob Nielsen is better, but both are great reads.

  • David Platt Reply

    Yes, these are the rules, and you gotta know the rules before you can break them. But you gotta break em. Come up with better, original usability.

  • Dave Reply

    A great selection of important usability issues from Steve’s book which is well worth the money.

    I wonder what everyone opinion is on no.10 “make it easy to go home”.

    Could we say that the logo as a link home was now a permanent fixture in the web vernacular or must we have a separate “home” button.

    I think a nice compromise is a hover state highlighting that he logo will take them home. Maybe some ruby slippers appearing or something ! lol

  • Lisa Rex Reply

    This is the first proper usability-focused book I read and it’s one of the best. Another point that stuck with me is that visitors to your site have a reservoir of goodwill. Finding what they need quickly and easily fills the reservoir up. Each puzzling option, confusing instruction and mysterious error will diminish their reservoir of goodwill. A low or negative reservoir will cause the visitor to avoid your site in the future, or even worse, spread the news that your site sucks!

    Anyway, suberb book. I wrote a review of it on my blog too.

  • Rob Reply

    Make sure when creating lists that numbers prioritize, and bullets don’t.

  • Bryn Reply

    I think Krug’s book is a wonderfully simple read and is crafted in a beautifully engaging way. However, what I think this books does exceptionally well is practice what it preaches.This book doesn’t make me think (it’s not ‘rocket surgery’).

    I think it’s a perfect introductory text to usability. I would (and do) recommend it to anyone first starting out in usability. However, there are many more books out there that tackle some of the more complex and interesting issues regarding usability.

    However, if you found this book particularly good, I would recommend ‘Designing the Obvious’ by Hoekman. A book about usability which is also written in an engaging, personable way.

  • David Hawdale Reply

    Do we really need to rehash all this year 2000 don’t-make-me-think stuff again and again? Steve Krug’s book was useful once, but with the web established and mainstream mass market there is now so much more space for creativity and, yes, thinking. In 2009, users want to be excited and engaged, they want to think, and they do not want to be patronized.

  • Bradley Hebdon Reply

    @David Hawdale: Thinking is fine, as long as it’s fun. The latest series of “brain games” are testament to that. At the end of the day, it’s all about context. If a user doesn’t expect to think, then they shouldn’t have to. But if they’re anticipating a degree of cognitive effort, then they’ll be fine with it.

  • Ivo Bosma Reply

    Very nice summary of Steve Krug’s book. If you find the article worthwhile you should definitively read the book.

  • Aaron Mc Adam Reply

    I found Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge interesting, its got a lot of principles that are transferable to UX / Usability :)

  • John Campbell Reply

    Aside from what comes intuitively, I am still a layperson when it comes to usability. I look forward to picking this book up and giving it a read. Thanks for the the quick look!

    – J

  • BebopDesigner Reply

    Sometimes it’s hard to choose a book in amazon, because you don’t really know who the reviewers are… but if the recommendation is coming from a blog you follow, it’s not just handy, it’s brilliant! Thanks for posting!

  • Brett Lutchman Reply

    In all honesty, everything that Steve Krug wrote in his book, I already knew. I believe this was possible because like Steve, I know how I would want a web page laid out for me to see and I know how I would want to interact with it. It was when I read Andrew Chak’s book “Submit Now” that I felt really challenged to consider business objectives on a higher level and to take the buyer’s life cycle into more serious consideration.
    Both of these books coupled together make for an excellent read and really do go hand in hand.
    There are so many books out there, and many of them are a waste of time (I won’t name them).
    What I like about “Don’t make me think” and “Submit Now” are that both books are:
    1. easy to read
    2. fun to read
    3. get straight to the point
    4. add true value to my craft
    5. have enough space to write notes in
    6. are an excellent reference source
    7. are great for helping others understand the value of our craft

    The list can go on but I find these the most important.

  • Robert Hoekman, Jr. Reply

    Actually, #9 in your list is bordering on incorrect. I’m not sure what Krug said about it off the top of my head, but studies have shown the opposite to be true, and usability professionals largely agree that users do not, in fact, build mental maps of sites as they use them. In actuality, they appear to fail to do this, which is partially why good navigation is so important.

  • Liz Hover Reply

    This was the first usability book I read and I immediately became a fan of Steve’s. His no-nonsense approach is a breath of fresh air. This is absolutely the book I would recommend.

  • Jeff G Reply

    Thank you for posting these ideas… I’m going to buy Steve Krug’s book as soon as I can, and your excerpts have been very useful in giving me an idea of what to expect.

  • Nikola Petkovic Reply

    To be honest, I had difficult time reading this book.
    Steve tried to give it a funny spin by mentioning real life examples that are specific to US area (TV shows, magazines, etc).
    Without trying to say it in plain english, he actually “made me think” really hard.
    Numerous foot-notes throughout the book were a huge mess, interrupting the natural flow of reading, and distracting my mind instead of focusing it on the content.
    I decided to read the book after I read Robert Hoekman Jr’s “Designing the obvious”, but I found Robert’s book much more understandable and enjoyable.

  • Daniel Navarro Reply

    Definitely one of my favorite books that I own. A great read, and contains information that all web designers should know. Might I add, “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman? It’s a classic.

  • Daniel Reply

    Yes, great summary of the book. The book is the guide to web usability 101. Thanks.

  • John Robinson Reply

    Steve’s book has sat happily on my desk for the last four years. It’s the one book I really couldn’t do without. It is a fantastic common sense guide for anyone involved in building websites.

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