Don’t Make Me Think! By Steve Krug – Book Review

I don’t know about you, but I find many web sites a bit difficult to navigate.  Maybe it’s just me – although from comments I read from time to time, others seem to have this problem too.

I particularly notice this in some of the social media sites.  Like last night when I noticed a Facebook invite from a friend  to join Goodreads – a social site where you can share your favorite books, ratings and reviews with fellow readers.  Given the credibility of my friend, and my love of books and reading (I own a 3000 volume library) I joined.

So I joined and was immediately pulled into numerous prompts, screens and web page navigation that were tough to get around in.

I think I wound up rating one book before finally giving up for the night – thus giving my friend and the world at large the impression that I am a) illiterate or b) accidently hit a wrong key and actually rated a book by mistake.  There are high odds the second option is correct – chuckle.

And my friend, who actually took the time to write a review (which I would like to read) found that it was swallowed up in the confusion of the site and had gone to computer heaven.

Rest in peace, book review.

I think my frustration lies in the fact that I know web sites can be better.  I’ve been part of software design and development for longer than I care to remember.  So I know that the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the developers.

Back in the day of “please don’t fold, spindle or mutilate” when I was a Senior Programmer on the big mainframe computers, we had a colorful name for this kind of design and programming.  We called it spaghetti code.  Yes, there was bad code back then too, but today it seems to be more so.

Now I hope you are sitting down for this because I’m going to say something quite radical.  Here it is.  We used to actually plan our computer code in advance, being mindful to make it as easy as possible for the “user” to, hmmm, well, actually use it.

Which seemed sadly lacking in a documentary on Facebook I watched recently, where all of the programmers were sitting around in a circle slamming out code changes on what seemed to be a whim.

Which is just how the my user experience on Facebook and many other social networking sites feels.  That I am swimmig through a “whim” design.

Worse yet, changes to basic functions are changed all of the time, on a whim, so that what was in one place on the screen yesterday has now moved or morphed or disappeared today.

Much like if little gremlins invaded you car every night and switched all the basic controls around, like moving the ignition from the steering column to under your seat, the windshield wiper control to inside the trunk, and the steering wheel to the other side of the car.

And the next night they changed all the basic controls all around again.

So in the morning when you get into your car, rushing to get to your first meeting of the day, you feel total frustration trying to do the most basic thing – like starting your car (I have a revenge fantasy of doing this to some of these developers – which may imply I need to get a life – chuckle).

Now this would just be an old timer’s rant except for one thing.  I know of something that can help.

It’s a book, a wonderful, clear, cogent book, that describes how to avoid this situation.  I’ll let the title speak for itself.  It’s called Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug – who seems to think things through before he writes them.

It is full of design gems and reviews of sites and their usability.  And the author presents another one of those jaw-dropping ideas.  It is to test your web site.

No, I don’t mean just check to see if the spaghetti code works.  Test it with real humans.  Like people off the street.  And video tape the tests.  An analyze them to see where they get confused.  Then go back and redesign the thing.

And keep doing this until you get it right.  Because people don’t necessarily follow the same mental logic path that a computer developer might think they will.  No surprise here, really.

So why not ask them?  Why not ask the user of the code by letting them exercise its usability and giving feedback.

Because developers only have to write the computer code once, but us users have to use it over and over again, thousands and millions of times.  So lack of design forethought is compounded exponentially.  And confusing, I should add.

So check out the book Don’t Make Me Think.  My copy is dog eared and underlined.  And don’t worry, it is written so even the technically challenged will understand it.

And if you’re a code developer that wants to be at the top of your game, or you know one, buy the book, for yourself or your friend.  You may just be helping save the world.

Have a nice day – John

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