Are your users really thinking that?

Lucia Gore 20th April 2021

In the recent episode of the ECS Tech3 Podcast, Bhavina and myself discussed books that we’ve enjoyed that relate to the subject of UX Design. These can help beginners to learn about the principles of UX design and how and why it is so relevant in industry today.

One of the books I have enjoyed most over the past year is Don’t Make Me Think: Revisited by Steve Krug which is arguably one of UX Designs most important and well-known books – it is highly recommend in various UX Design courses and covers. The original was published in 2000, with the ‘revisited’ edition made available in 2014. This blog is a review of Krug’s work and the takeaways I use as a UX designer.

As the title suggests, one of the most important laws of usability is “don’t make me think”. Krug builds upon this concept throughout the book and explains that all products and services should be self-explanatory and obvious. Achieving this will increase the user’s enjoyment and sense of fulfilment when using said product/service. As Krug explains: “On the internet, the competition is just one click away, so if you frustrate users, they will head somewhere else.” This I believe to be completely true – would a customer wait thirty minutes to buy a cocktail, when they could get the same cocktail in two minutes from the shop next door? Unlikely.

Near the beginning of the book, Krug explains the difference between how we think people use a web site versus how they actually use them, using three facts of life:

  • Fact 1: We don’t read pages. We scan them.
  • Fact 2: We don’t make optimal choices. We “satisfice”.
  • Fact 3: We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

From these facts, Krug outlines the first major issue that designers and users face: designers’ ideas about a website are (almost certainly) not the same as the users.

I also picked up on the word “satisfice”.  According to Krug, when users consider their available options, rather than choose the ‘best’ one, many opt for the first ‘reasonable’ choice – you guessed it, the one closest to the “don’t make me think” mindset.

The third fact I found particularly relatable to my life. Does anybody ever read the instruction manual, ever?

I’m going to say with confidence, the answer is no.

As Krug puts it: “The main thing you need to know about instructions is that no one is going to read them — at least not until after repeated attempts at “muddling through” have failed.” This makes it clear that the ‘muddling through’ part is what is most important to focus on. Rather than spending time on a detailed FAQs page, focus on making it easy for your users to navigate your site without having to stop for instruction.

The book is dotted with humour and relevant modern examples that help the user to understand the complex world of web usability and user experience. Krug states: “If something is usable — whether it’s a web site, a remote control, or a revolving door — 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 being more trouble than it’s worth.”

To me, this is really important. It goes to the core of user experience and is prevalent throughout the book. There are also regular pictures and illustrations to outline the meaning of each salient point – making them easier to remember once I’ve put the book down!

“Making every page or screen self-evident is like having good lighting in a store: it just makes everything seem better.”

The popularity of this book, and the recognition it’s been given as a key player in design/experience/content strategy books, comes down to its straightforward approach, beginner friendly feel, plentiful tips and suggestions, and as mentioned, helpful illustrations.

For anyone feeling inspired and wanting to get into UX Design, I would definitely recommend this book as a starting point. But more than that, I believe it would be fantastically helpful for product designers and product owners alike, as well as agile team leaders and even for CEOs. There is a lot that can be applied to every aspect of a job in the tech industry and starting with the user is always a good place to start!


About the author:

Lucia Gore has worked in the Digital Engineering Practice at ECS for 2.5 years on a number of client site projects, including The Times, HSBC and Vodafone. After 2 years working as a developer, she trained as a UX/UI Designer and has since been working to improve her skills in this field and deliver outstanding user experience for ECS’s clients.




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