Back in 2000, I had just started school at South Seattle Community College in the web design and development program. Having completed quite a bit of college in the mid-to-late 80’s, I was able to dive straight into the courses needed for my certificate. They included Illustrator, Photoshop, MS Access (this was a LONG time ago) and Web Design 101. In that course, in addition to the HMTL 4 book needed for coding, I also had to read a book on usability called Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. This book has had the biggest impact on my career as a web designer to date.
The main idea of the book is that any visitor to any website should be able to “get it” – what it is and how to use it — without expending any effort thinking about it. It sounds so simple but this can be really tough to do and even tougher to help clients understand. Here are the top concepts I still use today and convey to my clients over and over throughout the design process:
- We don’t read pages. We scan them. Yep, you need enough text for Google and to convey your point, but there is such a thing as information overload. Clear and concise messaging is a must with bullet points and stand out headlines.
- Break up pages into clearly defined areas. Don’t try to cram a bunch of ideas onto one page. Spread things out. Make your topics make sense. Give your site some room to breathe and your visitors, too.
- A website navigation has two purposes; to help visitors find what they are looking for and to tell them where they are. You need to give your visitors something to hold onto with solid navigation. This is a huge focus for all the websites I develop.
- The homepage must answer WHY AM I HERE? The site message can’t get lost in all the tiny details and must relay the overall purpose of the site. This is the hardest point to get clients to understand. I swear, most want the entire site content on one page and in doing so, they often lose their whole message.
Helping the visitor “get it” is how I approach each and every design I create today. It never gets old or out of date. However, the examples in the first edition of the book I have on my bookshelf are HILARIOUS. Yahoo was the search engine king at the time. Amazon was just getting started. We’ve come a long way since then, but the basic principals haven’t really changed at all.