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Steve Kruger's "Don't Make Me Think, Revisited"

Robin Kim

January 15, 2021

I recently read Steve Kruger's book about web and mobile usability and wanted to jot down some takeaways that I'll be able to reference again in the future.

For context...

  • I've already read Refactoring UI.
  • I've completed the majority of Jon Kuperman's Frontend Master's accessibility course.
  • I've learned that, in general, recreating HTML elements (like <button> and <input>) from scratch is hard to do well, so I generally avoid doing so.
  • I'm currently working on a web app that's meant to be used via both computers and mobile devices; I'm currently not interested in learning how to better create a web site/app with a traditional home page.

And now.. here are some of my main takeaways from Don't Make Me Think, Revisited:

  1. "Don't make me think!" Steve's first principle is that everything should be as obvious and expected as possible.
  2. "We don't read pages. We scan them." Bullet points and smaller blocks of text are the way to go.
  3. "We don't figure out how things work. We muddle through." Nobody reads instructions the first time. If they're necessary, keep them to the bare minimum.
  4. "[Navigation] gives us confidence in the people who built it." A good, persistent navigation helps a user understand:
    1. They're on the same web site.
    2. Where they are on the web site. (Teleportation is disorienting!)
  5. "All web use is basically idiosyncratic." I'm going to need to repeat this to myself on an hourly basis. How I use the web is NOT the same as others.
  6. "It's not productive to ask questions like 'Do most people like pull-down menus?' The right kind of question is to ask 'Does this pull-down, with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?" The best way to answer this question is through usabilibility tests (NOT focus groups):
    1. Do it once a month
    2. Recruit 3 users and grade them on a curve as needed
    3. Get as many people watch as possible
    4. Have each observer note the top 3 problems they noticed
    5. Collectively, figure out a ranked top 10 list of problems to solve (and figure out how many to solve in the next month)
    6. Avoid new feature requests, and don't worry about moments where the user does something wrong IF they quickly get back on track
    7. For mobile usability testing, prefer recording the physical device rather than a screen recording so that you can see all of the misclicks as well. You can create an inexpensive, lightweight, portable rig by attaching a webcam to a book light so that the webcam is always pointing at the mobile device!
  7. "No cursor = no hover = no clue." Since touch-based devices don't have cursors, users need additional indicators to know which UI elements are interactable.
  8. Here are some low-hanging fruit when it comes to accessibility:
    1. "Add appropriate alt text to every image." Screen readers don't read images with empty alt texts.
    2. "Use headings correctly." Using the macOS Voice Over screenreader has created a newfound appreciation for thoughtfully placed headers!
    3. "Put a 'Skip to Main Content' link at the beginning of each page." I learned this from Jon Kuperman's course as well. The New York Times does this very well.
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