“Don't make me think“

Steve Krug, in his classic UX book Don't make me think, urges us to make our best to lower frictions and efforts to our users trying to reach their goals through our product.

Beyond the now obvious usability meanings of this principle, we have a lot to gain by applying this principle with all our “users” and “clients”, whether we are tech or product or management people.

Basically, getting to the "don't make me think" is a concern of empathy.

  • when programming software, you can consider other developers as "users" of your code. How do you make your code usable? If in doubt about the quality of a piece of code after applying all known best practices, ask yourself "have I reached the best level of "Don't make me think" for the next programmer to work on this piece of code" ?

  • when developing technical tools (e.g. software deployment tools), tech people using your tools are your users. You've just developed a new script or tool to package this thing or deploy that one. Have you done your best to optimize the level of "Don't make me think" for the user who will be using it? Actually, some kind of “on the field user testing“ with one of your real target users, may be necessary to validate the "Don't make me think" level.

  • when writing and API documentation, the "3:30:3" rule defines concrete and simple goals to ensure a proper level of empathy with your API users. Your API docs should be good enough to allow:

    • 30 minutes to understand what the API does
    • 30 seconds to sign in
    • 3 minutes for the first request API programmers, test your assumptions, with real users on this one too!
  • when designing wireframes or PSDs: have you put yourself in your internal "clients" shoes (a.k.a developers moon boots) 5 seconds to ensure the best "Don't make me think" experience for them? The simplest user test may be to read those materials with them.

  • when writing emails (!): did I do my best to make it usable and lower the likelyhood of remaining questions or confusions for my readers?

Have you also noted how the best programmers or designers have great empathy capabilities ?

Having empathy is hard

We know empathy makes us better in our personal or professional life, but having empathy is hard. It prevents big mistakes to keep in mind that it's even harder when tired or stressed: “hmm, let's be careful on this one since I'll probably lack empathy knowing my level of stress and tiredness”.

What about you ?

Personally, how do you ensure the right level of “Don't make me think" for your own internal and external users and clients?

How do you assess empathy capacities of candidates during recruitment? How do you manage and coach your low empathic team members ?

Ismaël Héry

I am in charge of the team designing, building and deploying the new print and digital CMS for the french news brand le Monde. I've been head of software development @lemonde.fr and before that, consulting at OCTO Technology with product and tech teams to help them improve their design and build activities.

My Twitter and Google+.

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