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Self-Explanatory vs. Self-Evident Web Design

By: John Rogers ·


As website designers and developers, we always strive to deliver experiences that any website visitor can easily understand without investing additional thought. Some might call this "self-explanatory;" but it isn't. Regular folks (like you) shouldn't have to re-read or self-explain anything in order to understand it — they should just get it. It's called "self-evident."

Steve Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think!" breaks it down in plain English, and explains how important this idea is to designing a successful website. The average internet user spends very little time on any given web page, they want to find what they are looking for quickly, and they don't want to, well, think.

Not everything can be self-evident

If an idea being presented is complex or revolutionary, it is sometimes impossible to make it self-evident. At the very least, however, it ought to be self-explanatory (read: require very, very little thought). We're not just talking semantics here, either. There is a difference between the two. Self-evident is 'smack you in the face obvious.' Self-explanatory, on the other hand, still requires no external explanation, but any commoner could understand it with only minimal mental investment. 

Think of a door, for example. If it is designed properly there is no need for a sign that reads 'push' or 'pull' on either side. This is what we strive for with the level of usability of our website designs. Here are some examples:

  • Navigation and menu links are clear, requiring no explanation or additional thought
  • Page titles are concise and clearly identify the page's topic
  • Links are obviously decorated and there is no need to instruct visitors to 'click here'
  • Calls-to-action and buttons are easily distinguished

Analytics and usability testing

Self-evident web design is not rocket science and it does not have to be voodoo, either. Through analytical analysis of website traffic and usability testing, any good web designer should be able to deliver a website that meets these requirements.

Again, it is not rocket science: it is, in fact, the exact opposite.