Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review and notes from "Don't Make Me Think": Part 1

Don't Make Me Think: Part 1

You don't need to know everything.  As with any field, there's a lot you could learn about usability.  But unless you're a usability professional, there's a limit to how much is useful to learn.
This is important, as a developer (as I assume most people reading this blog are) keep in mind the Pareto principle and how much additional effort you want to put into learning that extra little bit of usability, and if you could put that time to better use somewhere else.

... there is no one "right" way to design web sites.  It's a complicated process and the real answer to most of the questions that people ask me is "It depends."
I think we as developers are used to giving the "it depends" answer, but it's good to keep in mind that this goes for usability as well.  There are basic usability guidelines that you should be following, but sometimes there are reasons to break them, you just need to make sure that you have a good reason for breaking them, and that your design is still usable.
Using a site that doesn't make us think about unimportant things feels effortless...
This is a great line, and ties in well with a concept Steve goes into great detail on later on, that of a "good will" reserve that users have.  When you make it effortless to use a site, you aren't tapping into that reserve, and if you do it right you may even start refilling it.  Be aware that users may not always come to your site with their good will reserve full, and that different people have different levels of reserve.
...most people are going to spend far less time looking at the pages we design than we'd like to think.
As a result, if web pages are going to be effective, they have to work most of their magic at a glance.
Something I hope we're all familiar with, the KISS principle, seems to me to apply well here.  The easier you can make it for a user to figure out what is going on, the more they will like your site.  If you confuse them by putting ads or some content you really want the to see in a place they normally expect to see menus, or a login area, or the site logo you're going to rapidly deplete that good will reserve.
We don't read pages.  We scan them.
What this means is that if you make something unnecessarily complicated, or make it hard for the user to find locations of things, you're making them think when they shouldn't have to.  Make your buttons obvious, your links underlined, don't underline things that aren't links (highlight it some other way, there are enough of them that you don't have to overload the hyperlink indicator).  A user is not going to read your instructions before they try something the first time, so try to make it so they don't have to.
We don't make optimal choices.  We satisfice. [...] most of the time we don't chose the best option - we choose the first reasonable option, a strategy known as satisficing
This is further explained in the book, and I'll try to paraphrase and shorten the explanation to this:  People don't take into account all the options they have available based on the data they have.  They select the first option that seems reasonable to them.  So try to make the first option a user has the most reasonable one based on what they user is trying to do.
We don't figure out how things work.  We muddle through.
[...] Faced with any sort of technology, very few people take the time to read instructions.  Instead, we forge ahead and muddle through, making up our own vaguely plausible stories about what we're doing and why it works.
[...]If we find something that works, we stick to it.
This goes hand in hand with satisficing.  People are going to select the first reasonable option, and if they can muddle through and get that one to work then that's what they're going to do.  They're probably going to keep with that option and not even look for a better solution.  Only when someone shows them a better way to do something will they then start using it.  I think this would be a good reason to have some way of capturing how users are actually using your site, and to look at it, because how they use it will surprise you.  If you see a large fraction of them using a site in some manner where you know there is a more effective way to use it you should then try to notify those people of this better method when you see they are using the less optimal one, because they aren't going to go find it for themselves.  It's also probably not wise to make their old method unavailable, lots of people are resistant to changing.

I think that's enough for one post.  I've actually finished reading the book, and it is very good, I highly recommend it.  It is short, sweet, and to the point.

Next article in the series

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