Don’t make me think….

First off, I’ve had a wicked cold all week, so I apologize if I ramble.

This week’s readings came from Ch 1- 8 of Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited.   The author is a usability consultant for websites and mobile apps.  The book contains his advice on how to design websites and mobile apps that are enticing, easy to understand and easy to use.  The chapters break down how people use websites and how designers should accommodate the users.  Much of it boils down to Krug’s laws of usability (there have been 3 so far):

1. Don’t make me think  – What the website/app is and does should be evident and self-explanatory.  If it isn’t clear, users will get frustrated and that can (and will) lower their trust and confidence in your organization.

2. If doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each is a mindless, unambiguous choice.  – Users need to understand why they are clicking on a link or a button and feel confident it’s taking them in the right direction.  The choice should be clear and easy to make.

3. Get rid of 1/2 of the words on each page, then get rid of 1/2 of the ones left.   – Users tend to scan websites to find the information they need quickly, so don’t include information/text/words/blah,blah,blah they don’t need in order to get what they want.

In this week’s questions/comments to consider for this blog post, we were asked to pick one of three websites (they differed from the ones listed on the syllabus) and to discuss whether it holds up in 2014.   I picked the History Matters site , historymatters.gmu.edu.    I did some basic navigation through the different sections, read the “more on this site” information, did a quick search, etc.   I did the usability test at the end of chapter six in Don’t Make Me Think and tried to see how well the website conformed to the three usability laws listed above.

My first impression was that the website is not flashy and fairly basic visually.  It was easy to navigate to the sections and back to the home page.  Too much of the text was in the same color and font, making the text run together.  Putting the titles of each section/page into bold font and/or another color would have made them stand out better and this easier to find and use.   The same observation applied to the instructions for each page – some differentiation would help break up the page better and not look like one huge block of text.  Overall, I was able to find and use the site ID, page name, sections, local navigation and search features easily.  I didn’t completely understand the search feature (I also didn’t put a lot of effort into it, either) and thought that it was too wordy and somewhat convoluted.   The site packs a lot of information into one place and it can be a little daunting to wade through it the first time.  However, this is a site aimed at students and teachers of American history, so I don’t have a problem with it being somewhat wordy (in places).  I do think that it could benefit from applying the second law of usability.  I’d rather click more times than be faced with a page of a lot of text I have to wade through to find where I want to go next.

The questions/comments to consider asks us to think about who historians/scholars write for and how Krug’s advice on usability applies to academic writing or live presentations.   Historians and scholars write for a rather select audience  – themselves, their peers and perhaps, a few interested lay people.  They don’t write for the general public.  Krug’s laws of usability do apply but in a different way.

1. Don’t make me think – It’s actually ok to make your audience think but don’t confuse them or make them feel stupid (it just makes them mad!)

2. It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice. – You don’t have to lead your audience by the hand down the path of your argument/point but don’t make it too convoluted either or take huge leaps in logic.

3. Get rid of 1/2 of the words and then get rid of 1/2 of what’s left. – This one probably applies the most (!).   It’s not necessary in academic writing to boil everything down to the bare bones and be as brief as possible, but it’s also not necessary to be long-winded and use fancy words just for the sake of using them.

For live presentations, the need to use Krug’s laws is much greater.  Live audiences are going to be more like web/app users – it’s ok to be thought provoking but there won’t be time to make your audience think everything out; the path of your argument needs to be  clear and concise (much shorter and more obvious than in writing); and too much talk is like too much text – pare it down to what’s necessary.

It all boils down to knowing your audience.  What’s appropriate in one situation isn’t necessarily appropriate in another.  And that’s a big part of Krug’s message.  Website designers need to know and understand their audience (and he helps them do that) in order to design effect and usable sites.  And historians and scholars need to understand their audience(s) and how to effectively reach out to them.

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