I recently finished reading Don’t Make Me Think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – by Steve Krug.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be insightful:
But when I’m looking at a page that makes me think, all the thought balloons over my head have question marks in them. When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks.
We don’t read pages. We scan them…We’re usually in a hurry…We know we don’t need to read everything…We’re good at it.
We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice…We’re usually in a hurry…There’s not much of a penalty for guessing wrong…Weighing options may not improve our chances…Guessing is more fun.
there are five important things you can do to make sure they see—and understand—as much of your site as possible: Create a clear visual hierarchy on each page…Take advantage of conventions…Break pages up into clearly defined areas…Make it obvious what’s clickable…Minimize noise.
If the page is well designed, when your vision clears you should be able to answer these questions without hesitation: What site is this? (Site ID)…What page am I on? (Page name)…What are the major sections of this site? (Sections)…What are my options at this level? (Local navigation)…Where am I in the scheme of things? (“You are here” indicators)…How can I search?
The point is, it’s not productive to ask questions like “Do most people like pulldown menus?” The right kind of question to ask is “Does this pulldown, with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?” And there’s really only one way to answer that kind of question: testing. You have to use the collective skill, experience, creativity, and common sense of the team to build some version of the thing (even a crude version), then watch ordinary people carefully as they try to figure out what it is and how to use it. There’s no substitute for it.
Things that diminish goodwill…Hiding information that I want…Punishing me for not doing things your way…Asking me for information you don’t really need…Shucking and jiving me…Putting sizzle in my way…Your site looks amateurish.
Things that increase goodwill…Know the main things that people want to do on your site and make them obvious and easy…Tell me what I want to know…Save me steps wherever you can…Put effort into it…now what questions I’m likely to have, and answer them…provide me with creature comforts like printer-friendly pages…Make it easy to recover from errors…When in doubt, apologize.
On a closing note:
But the things I’m talking- about here are generally very bad practices, and you shouldn’t be doing any of them unless (a) you really know what you’re doing. (b) you have a darned good reason, and (c) you actually are going to test it when you’re done to make sure you’ve managed to make it work; you’re not just going to intend to test it.
A highly recommended read in the areas of usability and user experience.