2: How We Really Use the Web

Krug mentions that the way that people use the web sites is not the way some people think that they do. They do not read entire pages before deciding what to click" they arrive wit ha purpose in mind, scan the page for something that matches that purpose, and click it.

(EN: The truth is likely somewhere between the two. Usability analysts generally give a person a specific task, such as "find the price of an item" which naturally puts people into bloodhound mode. There is also the difference between a transactional site and a content site, and not all sites are transactional. However, since the majority of firms that are paying for web design want people to do a specific task - namely, to buy something - Krug's perspective is precisely right for that particular kind of site, user, and situation.)

Users Scan Pages

When seeking to perform a transaction, people do not spend any more time than necessary in doing so. So their approach to interacting with websites is to scan pages for information related to their next step in the task.

It's similar to the way in which people "read" newspapers- they scan the headlines looking for topics of interest. They may stop a while and read a story that suits their interest, but they do not read every word of every page.

People scan because they are on a mission - and anything that does not relate to that mission represents a distraction and a waste of time. What's more, people are good at scanning, and generally have been successful using Web sites in this manner - so their behavior is reinforced by past success.

In essence a person who is looking for job openings reads a web site like this: "blah blah blah blah blah JOB OPENIGNS blah blah" - though in truth, they usually don't get the last two "blah"s because they click away when they find what they are looking for.

Users Seek Adequacy, Not Perfection

Online, and in life in general, people generally do not spend a lot of time comparing options to choose the best one, but instead, they choose the first option that seems acceptable. The practice, known as "satisficing" is not seeking to achieve perfection, but merely to find what's good enough.

The phenomenon has also been studied by cognitive psychologists when investigating the decision-making process: people make snap judgments most of the time, and in fact it requires a great deal of energy to overcome the impatience and anxiety that cause us to jump on the first thing that come to mind and make a slow and deliberate decision - particularly when there seems to be nothing wrong with it.

He mentions Gary Klein's study of people in high-pressure jobs where time is of the essence, as well as the decision-making of "average" people in an emergency situation. When the house is on fire, you don't pause to consider every possible route and choose the best one - you run toward the first option that looks promising.

(EN: For what it's worth, those trained in critical thinking are often taught to resist this impulse because it is the cause of great many disasters - but few people are trained in critical thinking, or even have the basic skills.)

Krug does concede that when the conditions above are not true, people will slow down and be more laborious in their decision-making process.

(EN: This would be another distortion of the usability testing process - people in a lab environment are not doing a real task that will have a real outcome for them, so they take it less seriously and proceed in a very nonchalant manner whereas people in real usage situations are more careful because they're doing a real task with a real impact.)

User Muddle Through

One common behavior seem among many people is that they ignore instructions and attempt to figure things out as they go - using what little they know and making up a vaguely plausible story about what they are doing and why it works.

Online, many people do not even know how to use their Web browsers. They don't know how to bookmark a site, or how to print a page, or how to do a "search" on a page, or use most of the features and functions in the various menus at the top of the window. Many of them never even change the home page (which is usually a search engine anyway).

And again, this comes down to efficiency. Most people can get by without printing a page, so they never learn how to do it. If you show them how to change their home page, they may never need to do it again. So there's little point in learning to use things that will only be used once in a while.

Muddling through gets the job done - in a very primitive and clumsy way. People may be missing things that would be easier or more valuable, but the time invested in learning about everything to discover the few things that will be useful once in a while is not worth spending.

Muddling is not the same thing as tinkering. A person who tinkers is curious about how a thing works and is experimenting to figure it out - he wants to learn about the thing, but has no specific purpose in mind at the moment. A muddler doesn't want to learn - he just wants to get something done and does not care how the thing works. He'll make the same mistakes multiple times because he's not paying attention at all, just trying to get satisfaction by doing what feels right without much thought or attentiveness.

So What to Do?

Inexperienced designers are often control-freaks: they want the user to do exactly as they intended and ate attempting to communicate to them through their brilliant design.

More experienced designers recognize this perspective is backwards: they are not leading the user to behave in a specific way - but consider the way in which users will behave and accommodating it.

That is, a good designer has no sense of what the user is "supposed" to do and does not insist that the user "has" to do things a certain way. Instead, he considers what a user might try to do, and tries to make success possible given those choices.