B.G.: Before Google

I read Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think last year; I’m a big believer in his theories on web site design and usability. As the descriptive “brochure” style of first-gen sites is increasingly replaced by Web 2.0 makeovers, his emphasis on ease-of-use is more relevant than ever.

There’s only one problem with this reading-and the other one from 2001 on usability testing: neither mentions Google once. (Well, OK, the University of Buffalo case study does mention Google once, in citation #15.) And while not surprising (Google hadn’t swallowed the Web yet), Google has since then, of course, changed everything.

Recently, I was called in to consult with a major publishing company contemplating a site revamp. Their main page, like that of the U. of Buffalo Library, was a mess: too much explication, too many choices. They had a century’s worth of great content in their database, they just had to get out of the user’s way.

They asked me how they could make their homepage THE destination for professionals in their industry. My answer-and it was one they didn’t like-was: You can’t. Google is your homepage-and everyone else’s too.

I really do believe it. So much so that as I paged through the screenshots accompanying the Buffalo Library story, I kept Xing out the multilayered schemes and drawing in a single horizontal box with the word SEARCH.

Some other passages from Krug resonate with where my thinking is on Web 2.0 now:

Links and buttons must be obviously clickable: I favor those big shiny glassy or brushed metal buttons you see nearly everywhere now.

Cut out the busy-ness and background noise: “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left” is another Krug chapter.

Keyword functionality: “They just look at what you type and do whatever makes the most sense,” says Krug. I call this “letting the user drive.”

Making pages self-evident is like having good lighting in a store: it just makes everything seem better…. If Web pages are going to be effective, they have to work most of their magic at a glance.

Or, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, in a blink.

We scan, we satisfice, we muddle through, says Krug. As I put it: your site must be “plug and play.”

And, as the Buffalo Library case study demonstrates, do whatever Jakob Nielsen says about testing (including signing up for his Useit.com Alertbox newsletter)

Krug touches on the issue of “delight” only briefly in this chapter-“Oh, it’s a _________. Neat.” This reminded me of the Mobile Phone UCD selection we just read: “Users need to be able to touch the buttons and see software that feels like it is actually working” [Kangas and Kinnunen, 2005].

It’s the positive reinforcement that comes from making those guesses Krug tells us users make-and having those guesses turn out to be right. There’s something deeply satisfying about having your intuition proved right. It’s what keeps the user engaged, what keeps a site “sticky.”

Of course, you do want to throw in some curves from time to time, to keep the game interesting-though not as often as Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. In this game, the player (and not the house) must win.

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One response to “B.G.: Before Google

  1. In the past few years, every class teacher has referred to Krug. His style of writng is so straightfowrd and makes complete sense. With the advent of Web 2.0, it seems that finally Krugs’ style has become a convention.

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