Radicle blog / Notes on the book, Don't Make Me Think

Mr. Krug introduces his job as a usability consultant in these terms:

And I am heartened, this being precisely my own value proposition, that in reading this book I am in good hands. …His job seems so simple, so where’s the ‘work?’ Well Mr. Krug, if he’s good at his job—and I am inclined to believe that he is—has to have an extraordinary ability to empathize and visualize: he must be able to get into the minds and hearts of a variety of people: he must be able to, in a sense, take their nervous systems and ‘try them on;’ and he must be able to suppose and visualize a great many different situations and manners that that app or website may be used.

This kind of empathic perspicacity is not easy. In fact, I think it’s not possible unless you have a talent for it. — “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” (Thoreau) — I type happily on this topic, because I reflect that not only am I extraordinarily able to see the world through various perspectives, but I am also motivated to become better still in this regard. …If you find yourself in conversation with me, and can recall only one thing from my writing, let it be this: I will hold you in a kind of respect that is rare in our society: I will view your every thought and feeling as valid, as interesting, and as a part of a beautiful living organism. Some of us are adventurers who travel the globe and pit ourselves against dangers; I myself adventure on the internal realm of what people think and feel.

Mr. Krug speaks to the demand for usability professionals:

“Almost every development team could use somebody like me to help them build usability into their products. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them can’t afford to hire a usability professional. And even if they could, there aren’t enough to go around.”

Quoting “a high school friend,” Mr. Krug offers what I find to be a wonderful way to think about usability consulting:
“I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.
“But I’d like to clarify a few things.”

Defining usability: “If something is usable…it means that:
A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it [sic] being more trouble than it’s worth.”

Chapter 1

Mr. Krug tells us the most important consideration for making an app usable: “Don’t make me think!” This is his first law of usability.

Chapter 2

This chapter discovers how websites or apps are really used:

Chapter 3

Mr. Krug recommends what to do, given that users are “whizzing by” (as opposed to their taking the time and care to understand how to use the website properly, as the website designers may have supposed):

Chapter 4

Mr. Krug’s second law of usability is introduced—“It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.”—the ending phrase requiring some explaining: He admonishes that ‘how many clicks it takes a user to get what he wants’ is a seductive metric, but isn’t as useful as considering how ‘hard’ each click is: “I think the rule of thumb might be something like ‘three mindless, unambiguous clicks equals one click that requires thought.’”

Stepping back, though, this chapter is really an elaboration upon Mr. Krug’s first law—_don’t make me think_—written it seems to combat the popular but erroneous notion that fewer clicks are somehow better.

Chapter 5

Mr. Krug’s third law of usability is about brevity, and corresponds with: “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”

He adds: “Happy talk must die.” — “Instructions must die.”

Chapter 6

Is all about navigation: “People won’t use your website if they can’t find their way around it.”

A light is shined on the “overlooked purposes of navigation:”

Chapter 7

Mr. Krug represents how daunting designing the home page of a website may be, because all these things have to be accommodated:


I don’t know if I agree that the home page has to do all of these things: maybe it’s not so important as people think, to have all these things on the front page. But, if we take all of these functions as necessary, it’s no wonder websites are a complete mess.

Nevertheless, Mr. Krug observes that what is most often lost as a result of contending with so much is “conveying the big picture.”

Mr. Krug conveys the kinds of questions that the user may have while browsing a website:

Chapters 8 and 9

Chapter 8 speaks about avoiding unproductive arguments; chapter 9, how non-usability-professionals may test for usability cheaply.

Chapter 10

In this chapter Mr. Krug upsets me a little because he uses the term affordance in a way that confounds two important ideas: an affordance is something you can do with a thing; a signifier is something that (visually) indicates an affordance. So, he uses the term incorrectly, and even admits it! But he says that everyone is using the term incorrectly, so he’ll continue to do so as well. …And I don’t know why this doesn’t sit right with me. But it’s not that big a deal.

Chapter 11

The cost is conveyed, in terms of frustration for the user, of interfaces having low usability.

Chapter 12

‘Accessibility’ is discussed, which term refers to an app’s or website’s usability for those with drastically compromised abilities.

I agree this is very important. I must be honest, I’m not so interested in creating designs catering to disabilities, if it means the original design must be compromised too much. Or if I am more accurate, I just don’t know much about how to do it. This is something I will hire accessibility experts for; and I’ll count on them to keep me in line.

Chapter 13

The final chapter deals with how to convey the importance of usability to ‘management.’

Being a book of refreshing brevity, I appreciate the following ‘background’ Mr. Krug provides:

“Back in the late 1990s, usability and user centered design (UCD) were the terms most people used to describe any efforts to design with the user in mind. And there were essentially two “professions” that focused on making websites more usable: Usability (making sure things are designed in a way that enables people to use them successfully) and Information Architecture (making sure the content is organized in a way that allows people to find what they need).

“Now the term you hear most often is user experience design, or just user experience (UXD or UX, for short), and there are probably a dozen specialties involved, like interaction design, interface design, visual design, and content management—and, of course, usability and information architecture—all under the UX umbrella.

“One difference between user centered design and user experience design is their scope. UCD focused on designing the right product and making sure that it was usable. UX sees its role as taking the users’ needs into account at every stage of the product life cycle, from the time they see an ad on TV, through purchasing it and tracking its delivery online, and even returning it to a local branch store.

“The good news is that there’s a lot more awareness now of the importance of focusing on the user. Steve Jobs (and Jonathan Ive) made a very compelling business case for UX, and as a result usability is an easier sell than it was even a few years ago.

“The bad news is that where usability used to be the standard bearer for user-friendly design, now it’s got a lot of siblings looking for seats at the table, each convinced that their set of tools are the best ones for the job. The worse news is that not many people understand the differences between the specialties or the unique contributions they can make.”

It is on this last point that my notes concerning this book will draw to a close. Isn’t it such wonderful irony, that the field has become as complex as most apps and websites, and has itself become rather unusable? I am basking in that irony, and I am excited that apparently the world needs me. I have been watching the field of UX unfold and not actually get us much further along. I see everybody is confused, while my own mind is lucid. There is a huge contribution I can make here, so long as I learn to stop getting in my own way. I’m speaking of my personal psychology now.

Mr. Krug offers two book recommendations that treat the matter of organizational buy-in:

—Raphael Schindler
27 Apr 2017