In my role as a Head of Product Design, I’m passionate about making software more usable. I can trace this passion back to year 2000, when I was managing a design team on an online banking project in Edinburgh. To guide us, we hired Chris, a human computer interaction (HCI) consultant — loosely equivalent to what we now call a UX Researcher.
Chris’s expertise in usability was an eye-opener. He introduced me to usability testing. We went shopping for a camcorder and tripod, so we could record the sessions, and we recruited from within the team (one colleague actually brought her grandmother into the office to participate).
A year later, I was working in New York, when I received an excited email from Chris, telling me about a new book that he highly recommended, and which would become my own guiding star: Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think.”
First published in 2000, Krug’s book has since become a classic, selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide and resonating with designers, developers, and product managers alike. Since updated and republished, the easy-to-read book remains a sought-after reference due to its timeless principles and easy-to-understand approach to usability.
At that time, Krug was also a highly-respected usability consultant. His hands-on experience working with clients added credibility to his writing and he grounded the book’s lessons in real-world scenarios.
Don’t Make Me Think is brilliantly simple. Even its title is a powerful reminder to always put the user first, and succinctly describes how the primary objective of usability is to avoid cognitive burden.
The book’s concise format and down-to-earth language make it an easy and enjoyable read — the kind of book you can digest on a short plane ride.
I love how Krug uses relatable cartoons to drive home his message. These illustrations shed light on concepts like the “religious debates” that bog down product teams who lack behavioural data. It’s a fun and effective way to make the book’s lessons stick.
One of the books standout cartoons is the contrast of “What You Design” vs. “What Users See”, which challenges designers to empathize with users and evaluate a webpage’s clarity and navigability.
Another of Krug’s compelling ideas is the “Trunk Test,” a mental exercise that challenges designers to imagine themselves kidnapped, blindfolded and dropped off at a random page within a website. How would they evaluate its clarity and navigability?
This and similar concepts embody Krug’s user-first philosophy and have strongly influenced my own design approach.
If you’re a junior designer looking for inspiration, I recommend starting with “Don’t Make Me Think”. As with the Paul Arden book I discussed in my previous post, I think Krug’s delightful work remains unsurpassed in the two decades since its original publication.