—DOROTHY GALE (JUDY GARLAND) IN THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
I wrote the first edition of Don’t Make Me Think back in 2000.
By 2002, I began to get a few emails a year from readers asking (very politely) if I’d thought about updating it. Not complaining; just trying to be helpful. “A lot of the examples are out of date” was the usual comment.
My standard response was to point out that since I wrote it right around the time the Internet bubble burst, many of the sites I used as examples had already disappeared by the time it was published. But I didn’t think that made the examples any less clear.
Finally, in 2006 I had a strong personal incentive to update it.1 But as I reread it to see what I should change, I just kept thinking “This is all still true.” I really couldn’t find much of anything that I thought should be changed.
1 Half of the royalties for the book were going to a company that no longer existed, and doing a new edition meant a new contract—and twice the royalties—for me.
If it was a new edition, though, something had to be different. So I added three chapters that I didn’t have time to finish back in 2000, hit the snooze button, and happily pulled the covers back over my head for another seven years.
(Writing is really hard for me, and I’m always happy to have a reason not to do it. Give me a good old root canal over writing any day.)
So why now, finally, a new edition? Two reasons.
There’s no doubt about it at this point: It feels dated. After all, it’s thirteen years old, which is like a hundred years in Internet time. (See? Nobody even says things like “in Internet time” anymore.)
Most of the Web pages I used for examples, like Senator Orrin Hatch’s campaign site for the 2000 election, look really old-fashioned now.
Sites these days tend to look a lot more sophisticated, as you might expect.
Recently I’ve been starting to worry that the book would finally reach a point where it felt so dated that it would stop being effective. I know it hasn’t happened yet because
It’s still selling steadily (thank heavens), without any sign of slowing down. It’s even become required reading in a lot of courses, something I never expected.
New readers from all over the world continue to tweet about things they’ve learned from it.
I still keep hearing this story: “I gave it to my boss, hoping he’d finally understand what I’m talking about. He actually read it, and then he bought it for our whole team/department/company!” (I love that story.)
People keep telling me that they got their job thanks in part to reading it or that it influenced their choice of a career.2
2 I’m enormously pleased and flattered, but I have to admit there’s always a part of me that’s thinking “Yikes! I hope she wasn’t meant to be a brain surgeon. What have I done?”
But I know that eventually the aging effect is going to keep people from reading it, for the same reason that it was so hard to get my son to watch black and white movies when he was young, no matter how good they were.
Clearly, it’s time for new examples.
To say that computers and the Internet and the way we use them have changed a lot lately is putting it mildly. Very mildly.
The landscape has changed in three ways:
Technology got its hands on some steroids. In 2000, we were using the Web on relatively large screens, with a mouse or touchpad and a keyboard. And we were sitting down, often at a desk, when we did.
Now we use tiny computers that we carry around with us all the time, with still and video cameras, magical maps that know exactly where we are, and our entire libraries of books and music built in. And are always connected to the Internet. Oh, and they’re phones, too.
Heck, I can use my “phone” to
It’s no flying car (which, come to think of it, we were promised we’d have by now), but it’s pretty impressive.
The Web itself kept improving. Even when I’m using my desktop computer to do all the things I’ve always done on the Web (buying stuff, making travel plans, connecting with friends, reading the news, and settling bar bets), the sites I use tend to be much more powerful and useful than their predecessors.
We’ve come to expect things like autosuggest and autocorrect, and we’re annoyed when we can’t pay a parking ticket or renew a driver’s license online.
Usability went mainstream. In 2000, not that many people understood the importance of usability.
Now, thanks in large part to Steve Jobs (and Jonathan Ive), almost everyone understands that it’s important, even if they’re still not entirely sure what it is. Except now they usually call it User Experience Design (UXD or just UX), an umbrella term for any activity or profession that contributes to a better experience for the user.
It’s great that there’s now so much more emphasis on designing for the user, but all the new job descriptions, subspecialties, and tools that have come along with this evolution have left a lot of people confused about what they should actually do about it.
I’ll be talking about all three of these changes throughout the book.
This edition has new examples, some new principles, and a few things I’ve learned along the way, but it’s still the same book, with the same purpose: It’s still a book about designing great, usable Web sites.
And it’s also still a book about designing anything that people need to interact with, whether it’s a microwave oven, a mobile app, or an ATM.
The basic principles are the same even if the landscape has changed, because usability is about people and how they understand and use things, not about technology. And while technology often changes quickly, people change very slowly.3
3 There’s a wonderful Norwegian video (with subtitles) about this that shows a monk getting help as he struggles to use the newfangled “book.” (Search for “medieval helpdesk” on YouTube.)
Or as Jakob Nielsen so aptly put it:
The human brain’s capacity doesn’t change from one year to the next, so the insights from studying human behavior have a very long shelf life. What was difficult for users twenty years ago continues to be difficult today.
I hope you enjoy the new edition. And don’t forget to wave in a few years when you pass me in your flying car.