By Mark Godi
My heart sank a little after reading Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. I wish I had been tipped off to it a few years ago.
As undergraduates, my wife Laura and I picked up a very basic understanding of web building. She was more advanced that I was, having a novice grasp of the old Front Page software. When my father would come to us in 2009 to build his real estate business a web site, we accepted, thinking it would be simple. Laura and I figured we’d find out what he wanted, build it, and be done. Instead, the struggle that unfolded was eye opening.
We thought the limited technical understanding that we had would be enough. What we didn’t have was the usability understanding that is covered in the book. We knew nothing of how sites need to be tested and re-tested. We knew nothing of dealing with input.
Putting the book down, I reflected.
The first chapter that struck me was No. 8, “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends.” In it, Krug talks about design teams trying to address usability issues with discussion. The problem is that opinions go round and round with little resolve. The opinions that should matter are the users; hence user testing should be important. The users are the ones who should be catered to.
My dad, Laura, and I were completely oblivious to user testing. We figured that it’s my dad’s web site; we’ll just make the site how he wants. The problem was that his understanding of good web design was flawed. He was a 74-year-old business owner with no clue what web building was. Even worse, Laura and I were equally as naive, yet we thought we knew what we were doing.
My dad wanted as much information and as many graphics crammed into space as possible. Like Krug’s book would say, he wanted a “noisy” web site. He had met with several important political figures over the years and had pictures with them. He wanted all these pictures postage stamp sized in a mosaic on one page. We tried to explain that it doesn’t matter whose picture you have posted if it’s not big enough for people to see.
We fought each other endlessly. In the end, the blame was on my wife and I. Never did we think to bring in people not close to the situation to do a web test.
After this epiphany, I decided to go back and look more closely at the site. It had been at least two years since I’d seen the pages. I told myself, “I bet I see the site completely different now that I know what to look for.” I was right. Visuals that I was oblivious to while working on the site, blew me away now.
The navigation introducing real estate agents was horrible. There is a page called “Our Agents,” and it went against everything Krug talks about in Chapter 2 about a “Billboard” mentality. The page is a giant picture of the back of people’s heads. To read about the agents, the user has to find these tiny name links strung across the bottom of the page. The contrast of the links was poor, making the names even harder to see.
Another part of the book that hit me was Chapter 5, “Omit Words.” I went over my dad’s “Why Choose a Realtor?” page. Krug would have been appalled. The page had lengthy paragraphs inside a scrolling box that I now realize are unlikely to be read. It should have been streamlined significantly.
Laura and I simply didn’t have the time to upkeep the web site so it now only exists on her computer. My dad went with an outsider to create a new site for his business and it is better than the one Laura and I created.
Overall, our site wasn’t as terrible. We got a lot of aspects right. With the knowledge of Krug’s book before hand, it could have been a lot better. I plan to keep the book on my desk and recommend it liberally.