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Don't make me think — yet

13 Oct 2004 by Ryan Singer

Please make me think! at Design by Fire is seeing some action. These quotes sum the article up:

Should everything be so damned obvious all of the time?
I still drink the “don’t make me think” kool-aid. And I find myself wondering sometimes: Is it the right thing to do?

Yes, it is absolutely the right thing to do. But for each design there is an important consideration: when is effortless use so important?

For example, an advanced programmer wants to get complex things done lightning speed in their text editor without thinking. Two weeks of thinking and learning up front may pay off when the programmer can then slip into the “don’t make me think” zone day-in and day-out over many years.

But on an ‘Order’ page for a web app the “don’t make me think” zone is immediate and critical. There is no pay-off down the road for figuring out a complex order interface. It must be clear. It must be obvious. Or you won’t make the sale.

I suggest thinking about it this way. “Don’t make me think” refers to two things, how easy an interface is to use, and when that ease of use matters. Some interfaces, like an airliner cockpit, deserve a thinking investment. Others, like that self-checkout at the grocer, should be obvious.

There is no hard and fast rule. Think about the design problems in front of you and make the call: should this be effortless now or later?

8 comments so far (Post a Comment)

13 Oct 2004 | JF said...

Something we like to say around here is "Easy things should be easy, hard things should be possible."

13 Oct 2004 | lisa said...

I must say that I am bombarded with tons of visual information every day and the less I have to sort through and the quicker I can get to what I want the better I feel about the experience. Oftentimes when this is the case, I find myself searching for and appreciating the details in the work.

I find this effective when designing anything from a web form to advertising material.

13 Oct 2004 | Darrel said...

I agree. This is definitely one of those 'well, it all depends' things that doesn't have an specific answer outside of the particular design problem.

13 Oct 2004 | Arne Gleason said...

“now or later”

That seems a very useful consideration to me. It raises some questions in my befuddled mind.

If you make me think now and it doesn’t save me thinking in the future, is it always bad? (yes?)

How do you persuade me that thinking now will save future thinking? (it tastes bad but it’s good for you)

Can you make it easy for me now, and lead my thinking to a better way later?

Are my complaints of having to think too much unwarranted if they’re directed towards an application or device I have to use?

If I can find likely answers to these now, perhaps I won’t have to think so much later.

14 Oct 2004 | MH said...

That "easy things should be easy..." saying -- I like it, but it's in danger of extreme overuse. I think it's the motto for at least 3 programming languages by now... ;-)

15 Oct 2004 | Onno said...

Well, Andrei Herasimchuk doesn't seem to like usability experts. There are more articles on Designbyfire that you could call usability-bashing. Dissing Nielsen because you don't like the look of his site... useless of course, since he as a designer should respect other people's design decisions.

There are no solid rules in usability, as mentioned above, but there is a lot to learn about user's behaviours, preferences and choices. Of course he is free to do as he thinks is right, but only a usability test will reveal wether things really work..

And some designs can be thoughtprovoking, inviting to expreriment or explore, but for informative and commercial sites those recreational aspects are not as important as supporting the task the user had in mind when she came to the site.

Perhaps designers that think usability is limiting their freedom:
a: Don't have enough knowledge of the usability field
b: Are afraid of adapting
or c: don't listen to anyone.

15 Oct 2004 | Andrei Herasimchuk said...

Well, Andrei Herasimchuk doesn't seem to like usability experts.

Well.... maybe someone should alert my wife, who happens to be both a designer and usability expert. She's worked in the field at places like Netscape, WebTV, PayPal and Adobe.

...but only a usability test will reveal wether things really work.

Empty rhetoric. Usability testing certainly can help, but it is far from the only measure of success with any design and how well it works. You should also probably read my article and note what I said in the first paragraph. It seems a lot of people have missed the point of the article as a thought experiment.

...for informative and commercial sites those recreational aspects are not as important as supporting the task the user had in mind when she came to the site.

More meaningless rhetoric. Look at Apple's iTunes. Very plyful design, it works, it's simple and it makes a lot of money.

15 Oct 2004 | Andrei Heraismchuk said...

Perhaps designers that think usability is limiting their freedom: a: Don't have enough knowledge of the usability field, b: Are afraid of adapting, or c: don't listen to anyone.

Oh.. and perhaps you should read Design Eye for the Usability Guy, where I put my money where my mouth is with regard to design and usability.

From what I can tell, it's the likes of "usability gurus" like Nielsen who seem to lack the knowledge one would expect of people who make critical assestments of design like he does, is afraid of design by not practicing more of it, and doesn't seem to listen to designers when they make valid criticisms of his work.

I'm sick of designers being slandered in the way you did Onno. It's just crap.

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