In 1996 everyone wanted a "killer"
Self-professed, hip web designers everywhere flocked at the feet of hack profit
David Siegel and refried DTPer Roger Black believing they were riding the third-generation
web -- until all their traffic fell asleep waiting for the pages to download or wondering
what they were supposed to do. Today, with the help of Jakob Nielsen and other "user"
advocates, we'll see a revival of usefulness return to the web. Nielsen's "Usability"
is the antithesis of Siegel and will breathe new breath into the the victims "killed"
by the lack of usability.
Designing Web Usability
__ Jakob Nielsen has taken the study of how people use
the web to it's ultimate exploitation, making himself the defacto authority on web
usability. His latest work "Designing Web Usability" should be on the desks
of everyone who develops web pages -- no -- I take that back. It should be studied
-- their bible -- because as the world spouts buckets of hype for flash and stream,
the success of a web site still boils down to who uses it and how much. Without 'usability'
few site visitors get much further than the front door. Jakob Nielsen has written
the book I've been praying someone would write for over half a decade. If we could
just get the ivory tower web designers to read it we'll have it made.
__ Actually, web "usability"
is not Nielsen's exclusive idea -- as the media would have you believe. Remember,
I told you about Jared M. Spool's research and works paralleling my own back in 1996,
and then again when we promoted his report "Web Site Usability: A Designer's
Guide". That was our first introduction to the term "Usability Engineering."
__ In the early days of the web people were so bedazzled
by the sheer excitement of designing web pages, few recognized where the web would
be in five or six years. Many simply ignored the principles of good design choosing
to fulfill their own urges to decorate their web pages with as much visual pollution
as they possibly could. I had many web crafter say: "Who cares? I'm having too
much fun to worry about the readers." One designer for a well known publication
(You'd know their name if I told you!) who attended my Web Design seminar in Chicago
said "We design it that way intentionally... we want to make it hard to read!"
Then in May, an interface designer in Toronto said "... no need to put so much
work into content -- the majority of surfers want the video and audio anyway -- no
__ Believe it or not, the laws of good design that built
the visual communications industry out of the dark ages of art nouveau and art deco
still hold true today. Both Nielsen and Spool prove it. As a matter of fact,
"as the information well grows deeper and wider so grows the
need for cleaner, and more usable interface design."
__ Nielsen tackles each issue in web design and teaches
you how to optimize usability. Not only does he delve into navigation and search
capabilities, but he helps you understand and implement strong content design --
what they'll read, how they'll read it, and what they'll read next. Pretty pictures
are not what the web is all about -- it's the message and the reader's comprehension
of the message that makes it work. Nielsen leads the way.
__ The most important areas of concentration for designers
are well covered here too. You need to know what visitors respond to, and how they
respond to it. You need to know what happens with international audiences and web
sites that cross regional and cultural boundaries. Designing Web Usability brings
your understanding into focus, then shows you ways to optimize your relationship
with your site visitor.
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This is probably one of the
most important books ever
written about web design.
It is definitely the most sober, and it's one of the few books with design on
the cover that actually deal with design. There's no html in this book -- thank God!
There's no java this or flash that. Nielsen deals with the design, and the why
of design rather than how. Once you understand why, you don't need to ask
how -- you already know.
Web designers: you need
"Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity
Stunning production from New Riders Publishing... Textbook Binding - 432 pages 1
edition New Riders Publishing
See this and all our other "recommended" books today in the Designers'
On the down side, some of Nielsen's writings should be taken with a grain of salt.
Aside from many obvious egocentric aspects of his writings, many of his "new"
design concepts (which he fully claims as his own) are, in reality, rephrasings of
existing theory or concepts. On page 351, in a discussion about the original interface
design of the Macintosh computer Nielsen says: "I discovered that it made sense
to reverse the design principles behind the macintosh and do the exact opposite in
every case." Except when he explains his theory, he merely describes logical
evolutionary extensions of the Mac interface rather than exact opposites. Another
somewhat bothersome current in the book is Nielsen's way of pointing out certain
sites as good examples eventhough they contradict assertions he has made in other
parts of the book. Nielsen compares "high traffic" sites to low traffic
sites attempting to draw the conclusion with usability rules, while ignoring millions
of spam messages sent, and millions of advertising dollars spent just to get people
to the site. (Equally concerning is that many of these beaming examples turn out
to be the web sites who's high praise is printed in the jacket liner of the book.
Hmmmmmm. I guess if I had a full page, full color screen of my web site published
as a good example in the book I'd be beaming too.)