Website Design: “You Can’t Go Home Again”

I recently picked up Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” for a re-read.

The examples are hilariously old. Almost on page one is a redesign the author did of Flooz, the virtual currency startup that was famously touted in 1999 by Whoopi Goldberg and burned through 10s of millions of dollars in a couple years before shutting down.

It’s funny then how a book written in 2000 is still so full of wisdom we should be paying attention to when creating websites. But probably aren’t.

This really resonates for me with one of his first pieces of advice:

One of the most crucial items in the persistent navigation is a button or link that takes me to the site’s Home page. Having a Home button in sight at all times offers reassurance that no matter how lost I may get, I can always start over, like pressing a Reset button or using a “Get out of Jail free” card. There’s an emerging convention that the Site ID doubles as a button that can take you to the site’s Home page. It’s a useful idea that every site should implement, but a surprising number of users still aren’t aware of it.

Steve Krug

Home buttons, links, or tabs seem like a waste. We want to add as little chrome and junk as possible. So having a Home button that just duplicates the click functionality of your site’s logo at the top of the page seems redundant and unnecessary.

Come on. It’s 2012, man. Everyone by now knows you can click a site’s logo and it goes to the homepage. Right?

So in website after website I’m part of creating, I find ourselves trying to get by without a Home button.

Last year I was working on Cityposh, a platform companies could use to create their own branded versions of popular games like Sudoku. Here’s our version of that game (just an example if Gap were a client).

I remember we didn’t have a Home button in the top nav. And then I watched as my wife tried to play our games. She picked up how to play the games quickly. We seemed to be doing well with the on-boarding design to get started with each game.

And then my mouth hit the floor, as she complained: “This looks great, but how to I get back to the beginning. How do I get back Home without having to use the Back button?”

Jesus. This was in 2011. My wife is one of the savviest users of the web that I know. She’s often using more new site designs and apps than I do. And she had no idea she could click our logo to go back to the beginning.

We added a Home link to our top navigation.

Screen Shot 2012-09-27 at 7.34.44 AM.png

There’s a lot more gems like these in Steve’s book. Examples you might try to brush off because they’re so old and the web has changed so much in 12 years.

But then I find myself still using sites today that try to get me to do things like pick a filter (e.g. keyword, title, etc) on my search box before I search. How do I know if what I’m looking for is a keyword or a title? I think I know the title or a word found in the title at least. But if I try title and you don’t find it, now I have to try the search again with keywords? Can’t you just search it all for me?

Jason brings up a great point. If we paid some more attention to what would have worked as good web design in 1998, we’d be creating much more intuitive and less frustrating software today.

P.S. I’d be incredibly thrilled to meet you on Twitter: here


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