Recent reading on web usability

Front CoverA few weeks ago, Yoav recommended Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think as a good book on web usability. I added it to my never-ending list of things to read, but since I’ve been poking around in some things which are a bit more web-y in addition to some of the MyFedora stuff going on (not that I’ve been paying as much attention to the latter as perhaps I should), I decided to bump it up in the queue rather than having it languish on the list forever. Luckily, the local library had a copy which I requested, picked up and finally had a chance to sit down and read it.

The book was a quick and easy read. There’s really not anything ground-breaking or revolutionary present, instead, it’s a good overview of lots of common sense things. And even though it’s a few years old for the most recent edition, it tends to still apply today. It would be nice to see an update taking into account some of the impact that AJAX has had on web design, but I’m not certain that the impact is really that large for what he’s really focused on.

The most basic point really is to make things obvious. Don’t think that you’re a whizz-bang designer and can make something incredibly new in terms of interfaces for the web unless you’ve really really spent a lot of time testing it out. Because even though the obvious is boring, the very fact that it’s boring makes people comfortable.

The other key point that he stressed that should be obvious to people developing software is to test early and test often and then iterate. It’s better to test the same web site twice with 3 people each time than to test once with 8 people. Again, kind of obvious, but too often passed up on in the effort to build something “beautiful” the first time.

If it were an incredibly long book I would have gotten annoyed by some of the simplicity of it all but at about 200 pages it was perfectly effective. So if you’re working on websites, I’d recommend reading it either by buying a copy or by visiting your local library.

And as a side note, your local library is a wonderful resource that too many people neglect. I’ve been making it a point to check more books out from the library over the past few months as opposed to purchasing them. I figure I’ll turn around some of the money I previously spent buying books to support the library and have the benefit of more to read and less clutter in my house. But the ability to go to their website, request books, and then just drop in and pick them up, read them, and return them is great.

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