Tuesday, August 12, 2008

UI Guru Jakob Nielsen's Site Is Unreadable

Ok, this is only half a dig. Jakob is one of the most respected writers and thinkers about user interface on the web. He is clearly bright, and he writes intelligent and useful things. In fact I quote Jakob and reference his work all of the time.

But I find his site unreadable.

It hurts my eyes.

What got my attention most recently was this new post on the year's 10 best application UIs.

Unfortunately, I have to say, Jakob has perhaps the worst site design I have ever seen. It is as if, while he is handing out the Oscars, he is wearing a plaid polyester suit. In truth his site is fine from an information architecture perspective. But from an aesthetics perspective it is awful. And aesthetics is important in UI. If you begin to look at something and want to avert your eyes, the site has failed.

In truth, Jakob's site has always been ugly. But this time it felt, to me, beyond ugly. I looked at the bulleted list of the top sites, and the bold cramped disorganized looking type starting each bullet, and I could not bear it.

I am sure some, and perhaps many of you will not think it is as bad as I think it is, but I defy any of you to say it is good. And so I ask the question. Do you judge a hair stylist or barber by his or her hair? Do you judge a cobbler poorly if he (or his kids - thanks Jeneane Sessum) has old beat up shoes, or none at all? (Ok so we don't have cobbler's any more but the cliche still works.) Do we judge Dr. Phil poorly if he gets a divorce?

And do we think less of Jakob Nielsen as an interface consultant if he seems to have no taste?

117 comments:

  1. Remember, Dr. Phil has a best selling DIET book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd definitely agree. Until I knew better, I never took a thing he said seriously because of the awful state of that site.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I fully agree with your point. I respect Jakob Nielsen's views on UI, but I would definitely respect his views even more if he managed to translate them into being a good example on his own web site.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just remember, Nielsen focuses on usability investments with positive (often large) ROI. Since NNG charges $40,000-$1,000,000+ for a consultation, you'd rather make MONEY off his recommendations than win beauty pageants.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Right you are! The site design is awful. On the other hand, my site designs won't win any awards, either, and I do it for money!

    - Mike

    ReplyDelete
  6. The lack of a fixed width has always made it hard to read.

    ReplyDelete
  7. His site is butt ugly. I went to GNC the other day to buy some whey powder for after wieght lifting. The woman at the counter was huge, maybe 300 pounds. She was trying to give me advice on what I should be taking. Do I want to take health advice from someone who is grossly overweight and unhealthy. No, but that's just me.

    Nick

    ReplyDelete
  8. It is like a dentist with yellow teeth. That is to show you how much you need his services.

    ReplyDelete
  9. > And so I ask the question. Do you judge a hair stylist or barber by his or her hair?
    > ...

    Possibly. But even so, you are talking about his design, which I do agree is not visually appealing. However he is not a designer, and his writing is not about graphic design. He does have bad hair, but he is not a hair stylist.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous,

    My argument is that his design is bad enough that it effected usability. Readability actually. Text was too close, the bold was used wrong, etc. It effected by ability to consume the content and I think that is an issue.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Peter,

    As I said to anonymous above, my issue is not about beauty per se, but about the fact that I feel his site is not readable. But that is part of design. The line spacing is to tight, the bold bleeds almost to the next line, and the column widths are too long, all of which makes it very hard to follow text. These are things a good designer would never do. That said, he does provide useful advice. But clearly he sets a poor example by not following basic readability design principles.

    ReplyDelete
  12. You're right, he should increase the line height. It would improve the readability, while the design would keep on sucking.

    ReplyDelete
  13. You are right on the money. I've often chuckled when people hold him up as some sort of guru of UI...when his own site is so laughingly bad.

    He says here (http://www.useit.com/about/nographics.html) about no graphics, "My original reasons, when I designed the site in 1995, were as follows:" and I think the operative phrase is "I designed the site in 1995" and it looks like it.

    He goes on to justify the ROI on how many unique visitors per month he can serve for nickels-n-dimes, which (to use your analogy) is like explaning to Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet at the Academy Awards why he's justifying his wearing of a plaid polyester suit while everyone is having a good laugh at his expense.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Readability also includes spelling and grammar, methinks. There are rules for the use of apostrophes.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've been reading AlertBox columns for over a decade with no ill effect. Maybe I'm just used to it.

    Usability is a laboratory science, not an art. So your analogy doesn't hold for me. It's like you're criticizing Nobel Prize judges based on their shoes.

    As a general rule, scientists don't give a crap about what things look like, so long as they work. Elegance is in the function, not the appearance.

    Einstein didn't dress all that well.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I've always admired the sites design. For a user experience perspective, he cut the bullshit and brought it down to just what was needed.

    It's minimal without looking sparse. It's function over aesthetic.

    I've read many of his reports and he knows what hes doing. The site could be improved but it does the job good enough.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don't mind the design and I can read the text fine. The minimalistic design doesn't take away any credibility at all in my mind. Craiglist very successfully employs the same kind of a design, and remains highly usable.

    ReplyDelete
  18. well, it could be like many fashion designers. what they actually wear for themselves is horrible. ugly most of the time, but what they create for others is hip, cool, beautiful, or avant-garde. with this said, i really never examined jakob's stuff :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Perhaps, usability and user experience should be considered separately. Although useit.com is certainly usable -- articles are relatively easily to find and read -- the actual experience of the site feels equivalent to an RSS feed reader. Whether that is good or bad is subject to debate.

    I do agree that a few CSS tweaks could make a big difference -- especially line-height and padding in a few places.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Your question makes me think about something my father, who's worked in grocery stores most of his life, once said. "Like Dentists who have kids with rotting teeth and Contractors who have unfinished houses, I don't go grocery shopping." I believe there is a loose correlation between what we do for a living and what we do for ourselves. I am more skeptical of my hair stylist if her hair is over done, get my drift?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Is this a joke? He's got a summary, big black text on a plain white background, and clear titles over every section. I can't think of any way it could be more readable.

    The only actual complaint you seem to have is that it's "unreadable". I'm not sure what to make of that, since it's obviously quite possible to read. (And "perhaps the worst site design I have ever seen", which is obviously hyperbole, which is why this sounds like a joke, but everybody else is playing along.)

    If you want a hard-to-read page, how about this very blog? Free tip: tiny gray text on a gray background is the most difficult text to read imaginable. From your giant headshot, you look fairly young (late 20's?), so your eyes can still pick up a lot of light, but your "About me" block looks approximately like TV static to anybody twice your age. I used to do usability testing with older people, and they would have killed me if I tried anything as dumb as tiny gray-on-gray text.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Anonymous,

    The difference is no one is paying me to design their site. I used a generic template because that's all the effort this site is worth to me. It is not my living.

    Regarding whether Nielsen's site is readable, again, you may not agree with the basic design principles of readable type, but they are fairly standard and well researched, and he *is* breaking them.

    Oh and thanks for the complement. I am 43.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The lack of graphical design on Nielsen's site is the same as his central point -- that usability is not about prettiness. It's not an accident that it's ugly. It's supposed to be that way.

    But I agree that he needs to catch up on the 100% E2R style. His lines are too wide.

    ReplyDelete
  24. This is a case of Pot, Kettle. This site itself is less readable than the one you are critiquing - as anon at 12.48 makes clear.

    There is nothing wrong with Jakob's site - readability doesn't necessarily mean that everything should jump off the page for you - it takes time, patience and effort; the prize is in the process, not necessarily in the outcome.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Jacob's site design is both usable and tasteful, IMNSHO.

    And with those glasses that you have chosen for yourself, you are not qualified to dish out opinions on taste.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I love his site, personally. No useless crap to get in the way. Re column width, it takes me all of a few seconds to resize my window to fix that on a site like his. Meanwhile other sites used fixed widths in pixels, which utterly breaks at the high resolution and font sizes I use. I have to resort to a little Javascript bookmark to try to fix that, or suffer reading columns with hardly any words per line.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Daniel,

    Nonsensical comment.

    It should take *effort* to read type? It should take effort to read the site of a useability expert? Its no problem at all that he breaks basic type readability/layout rules?

    And again, since you have a hard time reading this site I should say again, I don't make a living consulting on site design so whether you can read this one is irrelevant.

    Jeez.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Nothing wrong with his site. His site is all about usability, and as a result, his site is very easy to use and easy to read. It's not about fashion or taste, and that's why its design hasn't changed.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I agree. I think Edward Tufte's site suffers from a very similar and equally ironic problem.

    ReplyDelete
  30. For those of you who are claiming that Jakob's site is wonderfully readable, please compare the spacing and column width used in a couple of your favorite books with the spacing and column width used on the site. Are you still convinced the site is eminently readable? (Hint, it's not.)

    ReplyDelete
  31. Sure his site is readable but he certainly could have changed a few things since 95 to make the experience better . I mean... why the hell not . Saying that's it's all about usability or some such is a poor excuse, by this standard only design/graphics related sites should look good ...

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hank, you definitely have a valid point.

    Good type design and page layout enable ease of reading and enhance legibility.

    The folx who've commented that it's sufficient that he has black type on a white background obviously don't know what they're talking about. If the kerning and leading of a page are so tight that it causes one to get a headache to read it, then the usability is significantly damaged. It's the exact same type of problem that Jakob himself has criticised when he's pushed people to design with stronger contrast between type colors and backgrounds.

    Most people are unaware of the typesetting and overall page layout guidelines for good design and legibility -- so they often don't consciously notice it on the internet. It just subtly affects whether and how often they'll return to a particular page sporting those bad design issues.

    Usability should weigh in first, but user experience should follow close behind.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Usability carries no inherent visual penalty. Sites that are "ugly" but "usable" are so because the creator decided that they be so.

    While it's true that Mr Nielsen's site exhibits several characteristics of good web usability -- a summary, clear navigation, high contrast text, large headings, bulleted lists, etc. -- it fails to include other, equally valid characteristics of good, "usable" typography, such as proper leading and line length. (NB: I just realized that useit.com now sports a fixed width content area, which is quite new. As of a week ago it wasn't, and remained a serious reading flaw. It's still too long, but a step in right direction.)

    This is a legitimate criticism of useit.com and detracts from visitors' ability (mine included, and I'm a twenty-something with excellent vision) to parse and understand his content and to that extent I agree with the author. It's hard for me to read and, while not everyone will have the same experience, if at least one person has it, why not change it if you're interested in reaching the broadest audience possible?

    About which there is no doubt i that the site is ugly as sin, but as already stated Mr Nielsen isn't and doesn't claim to be a visual designer. An analogy, if it helps:

    Mr Nielsen sends you his resume as an MSWord doc in plain text.

    A professional typographer can send you the same content but make it a pleasure to read, in addition to being easy to do so.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Aren't you really complaining about the default style in your own web browser? Useit.com doesn't apply any particular style to bulleted lists, so the problems you note -- particularly that the bulleted list is crowded and has no rhythm -- is the fault of your software.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Jakob Nielsen's site is an object of lack of design. He was one of those people who got in early, during the beginning of web design, made a name for himself but didn't have the chops to do good design. But he did do one thing correctly: he made his lack of design skill and implementation an asset, and a raison d'etre for his very ugly, very pedestrian site.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Excellent post. I used to read useit.com religiously, but eventually stopped because it was just so agonizing to read. Yeah, I could probably adjust the settings on my browser to make it a little less annoying, but you know what - someone who's supposedly an expert in usability should be able to produce a page that doesn't look like a mid 90s geocities special. There's no excuse for having anything that requires user input to make it not look like headache-inducing garbage, not with how many turnkey and open source layouts are available.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Strongly agree. Those colors are atrocious, the line-height is too tight, and Verdana anywhere above 11px is an abomination.

    However, the article itself is solidly ok.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I definitely agree and am glad someone finally brought it up. Both the site and the advice are far from brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Yeah, I hate it. It does hurt my eyes as well. However, with just a few minor font and color tweaks it would look like the rest of the web I read in my Google Reader account.

    So, his base concept is not so bad but its execution is the pits.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Not sure what the big deal is with Nielsen anyway. Since when has Sun had a clue about UI design? They were, at their heyday an engineering culture with an engineering customer base. What exactly was it on Sun's corp website that was groundbreaking?

    ReplyDelete
  41. I've been taking Jakob with a grain of salt for so long, he must taste like cured pork by now. The man seems to have a particular hate of visual design. It was A List Apart that showed up so many years ago as the first vanguards that understood both visual language and usability, both as art and science.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Imagine a newspaper with no justification, too-tight leading, and text that goes all the way across the 2-page spread before it wraps to the next line.

    NO ONE here would defend that paper as "usable."

    And yet several of you here are defending a website that looks and works the same way! I honestly can't understand it.

    ReplyDelete
  43. If you're using Firefox, you can install the "Stylish" Add-on, which lets you re-write the CSS for any site. There are two styles already for useit.com, including this one (http://userstyles.org/styles/7708) and if you are comfortable with CSS you can edit your local copy of the Stylish style to make it do whatever you want.

    ReplyDelete
  44. This is kind of rich coming from a blogger who has a standard theme templated blogger account with little to no customization or "design". Maybe you are not a web designer by trade. And certainly Nielsen's site is butt ugly. But rocks, glass houses, and all that jazz.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Yes, it is fugly. And check out http://www.useit.com/alertbox/ - horrifyingly unusable list that assaults the eyeballs.

    It bothers me a little that Jakob refuses to catch up to the internet, circa 21st century. He sends out an email notification, but won't implement an RSS feed (I asked). Yes, his advice is usually pretty good, but it would be nice if he caught up with the times a little.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I agree with Hank here, UseIt is a difficult read. Peter Christensen's comment strikes an odd chord with me: NNG, as experts, charge great sums of money for consulting, to help a company improve the quality of their product, but they do not practice the same. I mean jeepers, you wouldn't have to drop a fortune to clean this up. A few thousand dollars would net an expertly crafted CSS framework (complete with line-height). Maybe instead of cobblers and contractors, the analogy is that of doctors being such poor patients. "We're good for you but no one is good for us."

    I stumbled across Marcin Bober's site this week (marcinbober.com), very nicely done. Very few graphics, very readable. Mark Pilgrim's site (diveintomark.com) is another example, not as appealing to me as Marcin's but still readable. Neither depends on graphics or really even color. If I applied Bober's general rules to UseIt, I think I would have a much better product.

    For a very related read, check out the classic "Design Eye for the Usability Guy" (designbyfire.com, or Google using the title). It deals with this very subject head on.

    ReplyDelete
  47. To the people complaining the text on Nielsen's site is too small/large/narrow/whatever: The nice thing is that his site follows W3C guidelines which means you can adjust all those things to your own liking (Try ctrl + and ctrl -) without the layout going haywire.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Usability on Nielsen's site is so-so, but the aesthetics really are depressing.

    That's not what I care about. How can you have made a reference to the cobbler's shoes and completely missed the point of the proverb?

    ReplyDelete
  49. Hm, I imagine many food critics are poor cooks. I don't know his financial situation or priorities, but professional web design isn't cheap.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Geez you're right. this site is terrible looking.

    He really needs to vary the fonts a bit and add a lot more colors. Oh, and add some <blink> tags in there to attract people to the most imprtant things.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Ryan,

    I entirely understand the point of the proverb. Perhaps you didn't understand the point of my reference.

    ReplyDelete
  52. A while ago (two years? more?) a respected designer did a mockup of a redesign of useit.com that looked good, was more readable, and stuck to Mr. Neilsen's principles.

    I can't find it now, nor can I remember the designer's name. Does anyone remember this? Post the link if you can find it

    ReplyDelete
  53. Re: the second comment from 8/12 8:24 p.m. I hate that argument when a site uses non-standard font sizes. My counter question is: can you adjust your browser to make his site more readable without making every link you follow off his site UNreadable? Answer: no.

    You don't design a site poorly and then tell people to change to use it normally. It's like designing a strange doorway that the average person can't get through and then saying "well take off your shoes, put your right hand behind your back and your left one in your mouth, and then try going through".

    ReplyDelete
  54. Man, the number of "you couldn't do any better!" comments are just pathetic. We're at school, are we? Not allowed to criticise economic policy either unless there's a solid proofed plan in my head that's a resolute improvement, eh?

    Nielsen is an outdated dinosaur who makes an obscene amount of money "consulting" by spouting the same usability truisms that were brand new back in table-based 97, but are every web designer's basic toolkit a decade later. The discussion here is not about whether his site "looks good" or not - that's a totally subjective argument. It's about whether the design of his site *gets in the way of his message*. Back in 97, it didn't, because back in 97 a plain design had no image dithering, no flaming skulls and no "spinning e" mailto: linked images. These days, usability encompasses more than "no images" and "good information architecture" - it starts with, at the very least, typography, which is itself more of a science than an art, and its one that Nielsen seems to have missed. In fact, not just missed, but is actively sabotaging. The irony is that he is ignoring the latest usability enhancements unlocked by precisely the same set of tools that he advocated in the first place.

    That his site has not evolved with the current state of the art when it comes to building usable websites suggests that his knowledge, understanding and advice is similarly stagnant. You might not care if your physicist dresses well. You might care if they're still advocating a flat earth.

    ReplyDelete
  55. I'm not bothered by his site, but then again, my blog is pretty ugly as well. I am bothered by the fact that he didn't link to any of the winners in that list! WTF? The web IS links!

    ReplyDelete
  56. I agree 100% also. Gruber has now linked to this article, but as with most of his posting, he's dead wrong. Great job!

    ReplyDelete
  57. Glad you chimed in 11 years late. Probably about 6000 articles like this written since his site's been around. No shit, his site looks like crap. We've known that for a while. A lot of what he writes is based on good human factors that's all that matters. Also, he's by far not the only one in the HCI game that knows anything. And, he can be wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  58. http://www.designbyfire.com/deye_web/alertbox.htm

    ReplyDelete
  59. People have been complaining about this for years. Nielsen himself said repeatedly that the site was ugly. Paraphrasing, he said that he was the only person who could get away with such a poorly designed site. The site probably isn't going to change anytime soon.

    As for the site's text layout, apart from setting the font-family to Verdana and a bunch of alternate sans-serifs, the site doesn't actually do much layouting at all. Looks just fine in my browser, way more readable than this site. Maybe Nielsen should change a few properties to make the text more readable in more browsers, but I'd hardly call the site "unreadable" as it is. Better than most other sites, in fact.

    ReplyDelete
  60. @ Hostile Monkey: I don't think his consulting consists of repeating the stuff he writes on his site. The Nielsen Norman Group mainly seems to be doing usability tests and studies.

    ReplyDelete
  61. @LKM - hyperbole on my part, agreed. But let's be honest, that site has to act as some sort of touchstone for the work involved. The old apocryphal cobbler story was about the fact that many artisans were so poorly paid that they couldn't even afford their own services for their families. At $1M a pop, I'm sure Nielsen could afford to get Vinh or Inman or Moll on board for a new stylesheet.

    To me, that site says that Nielsen doesn't respect his own advice. His site is a usability train wreck from a typographical point of view (IA is only half of the story, remember), and yet he's making millions of dollars in consulting? What message does that send? It's like SEO consultants that don't show up on Google. You can say that the proof is whether their CLIENTS show up on Google (a fair point), but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I stated my position on this issue in The Guardian:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/aug/09/guardianweeklytechnologysection.interviews

    I hope this really long URL makes it, otherwise please try:

    http://tinyurl.com/2rt3ds

    Jakob

    ReplyDelete
  63. Somebody who uses google's blogger templates shouldn't be talking smack about other designers. You are a clueless windbag from the very moment I laid my eyes on your drivel.

    Jakob, don't sweat it, our friend Hank is a running joke in various circles.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Hmm. I find useit.com quite readable. I am wondering if most folks actual gripe isn't with how IE on Windows renders the pages. Now, I will grant you that since the IE on Windows pairing is something like 80%+ of the viewing audience, things that look bad for such folk make the site seem poorly designed. However, I have been reading it on various flavours of Mac OS and Unix, with a variety of browsers, for the last ten years, and have not found it the least bit unreadable or ugly. To paraphrase the bard, perhaps "the fault lies not in our sites but in our browsers."

    For those who kvetch that the site design is old (or 1990s), why is that intrinsically bad? I, for one, prefer the useit.com page layout to this blog's layout. Gee, I have this terrific 1600x1200 monitor, with tons of pixels, and the content on this blog uses ... 763 of those 1600. And that's not all, as that is just the width of the main content part. The actual width is rather substantially less than that. And furthermore, if I bump up the point size of the text to something that is comfortable for these old eyes, the first line of this blog is reduced to, "Ok, this is only half a dig. Jakob is one", or approximately one-half the width of the column at the default point size on this same browser. If you want to talk about about the splinter in Jakob Nielsen's eye, you should first remove the log in your own. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  65. I'm sorry, good typography does not equal good design. Not even close.

    Saying "I'm not a Designer" does not give you an excuse to ignore typographic best practices.

    This is more of an anti-design stance by Nielson. He's afraid by ceding an inch to actual graphic designers, he's admitting they have something to add to his profession. The horror.

    ReplyDelete
  66. Bad site design - but also, bad commentary. Just does not stand up to scrutiny. So why is it that, until you (stalwart fellow that you are) wrote this post, no one noticed the emperor had no clothes?

    The answer can ONLY be depressing so please don't offer one.

    ReplyDelete
  67. Finally someone had the balls to call him out on his butt-ugly site that is unreadable for all practical purposes. It's like a "get rich quick on the internet" marketing page.

    It's organization is bizarre and is a giant list of things. Your eye does not focus on chunks of information which you could break it up quickly and go to where your interest is. It's just a pile of hyperlinks in high contrast.

    ReplyDelete
  68. Couldn't agree more. Nielsen's site hurts my eyes and I find myself clicking away before I can get through the page, so for me it's a fail as far as usability is concerned.

    As Jason Short (and many others) have said, good typography isn't about making a site "pretty" or "fashionable", it's about making it easy to read. I agree that Nielsen seems to be cutting off his nose to spite his face by not employing good typography principles on his pages. He'd rather have a site that is unreadable, rather than admit that people who know design might actually have a point.

    As for the person that said a site should take effort to read?! Spoken like a true engineer.

    ReplyDelete
  69. I got here via TechMeme by the way... I didn't want to confuse you in thinking I am a regular reader or that I have an understanding of your writing style.

    No, your domain name is not lost on me.

    WWJD is one of those earliest of meme I can recall highlighting the craze of it all.

    So, I'm slightly confused as to your history with the "guru" or if you are, essentially, passing along the same meme replayed with the benefits of social syndication.

    Just curious.

    Also, as a default template kind of guy myself... there are certainly a lot of visual experts slamming your own UI treatments here.

    I will say this... I'm still impressed I can pull up almost everything on useit.com with lynx/links on the command line.

    As you know, lynx support is critical to success of all major websites in this day and age. :)

    ReplyDelete
  70. Nielsen's site is not just ugly, it is in fact, very difficult to read. It's headache inducing.

    For all of those complaining that this site uses a grey background, get off your high horse. Pure white is NOT the most readable background colour. Think about when you are reading a book - the paper, even if it is "white" is not a blinding source of illumination. It's actually somewhat less than white - it's light grey (tinted by the colour of the light you are reading under.)

    You absolutely need something to dampen the harsh white light from a computer monitor that acts as a source of light. On an electronic display, text that's too contrasty is just as bad as text that's not contrasty enough.

    This site, stock template and all, is vastly more readable than Nielsen's. That's pretty amazing, considering the smaller typeface use. Of course, this site uses a much cleaner typeface, decent line-spacing, and appropriate line-length as well.

    ReplyDelete
  71. Credit where credit is due: Nielsen is one of the earliest and most successful internet charlatans. He practically invented the role.

    ReplyDelete
  72. I dont why their is even a discussion here. They reads and looks like crap. Someone should redesign it for free at this point.

    ReplyDelete
  73. I can‘t add anything substantive to this discussion except another vote against the abomination that is UseIt.com ... but I’m happy to do that!

    ReplyDelete
  74. The biggest problem with Nielsen is that every midlevel manager has read him and takes everything he says as gospel. So, suddenly, they become "experts" on every aspect of usability and design. A lot of his advice is good advice; but not all of it is. And the crappy medium does cloud the message. The page hurts my eyes. It always has.

    ReplyDelete
  75. It's so funny how Nielsen linked to his own article here. He's basically saying "Hey, I'm famous because people are both speak positively and negatively about my site, therefore it's OK to have such a crappy site!" The problem is, he can sidestep the fact that his site sucks-ass all he wants, but it still doesn't change the fact that the site is unusable, illegible, and poorly designed.

    The thing is that he's too established (and old) to even care about his site, because it works. Hell, did you see that CRT he's working on? I wouldn't want to change my crappy site either if I stared at a CRT display all day.

    ReplyDelete
  76. its kinda funny to me how people are defending useit.com like its some sort of personal attack against them or something, as was already stated in other replies here you dont read a newspaper with one column across the whole page even though its legible text, it is unusable at that point because you cant hold the paper up the way you want to, example some people fold it over to make it easier to hold and what not. By saying things like this plugin or modify your own settings to make the site work better is completely missing the point of usability. The whole idea of it is the user shouldnt need to do anything extra to make it work well, even a non designer can make a list where all the elements line up so you have a general idea of the beggining of a line of text instead of hunt around for it or eventually read the same line twice.

    ReplyDelete
  77. I made the exact same point in an essay I wrote at uni a few years back - A site is only usable if someone uses it - and I think the majority of people who go to Jakob's site would leave again very quickly. It doesn't hurt to have a little 'presentation' and in fact I'd go as far as to say that 'presentation' is nearly 'everything' when it comes to disseminating information to people. It's like electric/hybrid cars - whilst they look like some compact ugly plastic box on wheels nobody will buy one, in fact they will even ridicule the technology underneath - but when they look like the Tesla electric sports car people start to be interested lol.

    ReplyDelete
  78. Nielsen's has written great articles but the website is just awful. A big header and black text on white background "couldn't get better" readability? Please, there is more to is than contrast. While there is good information, I find myself wanting to get away from his website as soon as possible.

    People who comment on this (wdes.com) website are obviously missing the point.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Hi Hank,

    You really stirred it up this time! WebGuild had a link to your observation. Fortunately, I couldn't agree more. Jakob is a one-trick pony, and he hasn't changed his poorly and thinly researched work on HCI since HTML 1.0. I'm not surprised his site is so poor.

    Or is it a case of the cobbler's children having no shoes? Edward Tufte's site isn't so hot either, and he's my information design hero.

    Take care,
    Bill

    ReplyDelete
  80. I totally agree with this. I've often tried finding specific information on his main page, but the listings are so long that it's not worth it to scroll through them all. I do respect and appreciate his work, but his website needs to be redesigned for modern usability standards, too.

    ReplyDelete
  81. Amen, Hank. The Emperor has not clothes!

    But HCI folks do this kind of thing all the time, almost deliberately choosing butt ugly just to prove a point.
    "It doesn't have to be pretty to be usable", they say. True. But the two aren't mutually exclusive either.

    HCI people - sometimes it's about what people want, and not what they need. Sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  82. Niggers always choose style over substance.

    ReplyDelete
  83. Thanks for reminding me why I hate people.

    I mean, I have no problem saying Nielsen's site is ugly. I could even go so far as fugly.

    But I worked with this one guy who made just the most awful websites, from usability and accessibility standpoints. I'd try to explain the basics of usability and he'd claim he was a brilliant artist and knew "better than any of those guys".

    In reality, he was a total hack who didn't care enough about his craft to know which rules he was breaking.

    ReplyDelete
  84. To Jesus: Not only are you an idiot but you deserve to be crucified.

    As to the site question: The sites layout makes it difficult to read, which makes it hard to USE. Usability? Get it?

    The current issue in web usability is his site.

    ReplyDelete
  85. Like the mechanic who drive the car with parts dragging the ground, Jakob's site is enough to make you question how he can be considered an expert on anything. Yet that mechanic with the junker can fix problems with my very nice car that nobody else can figure out. It is almost as if he is saying "I could make it nice, but why should I?" His focus is on usability which is pretty much defined as "whatever Jakob says it is."

    This idea is further reinforced by looking at the Berkshire Hathaway site, the company that gizillionaire Warren Buffet runs:

    http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/

    Now this guy could clearly afford any web design experts he wanted to and instead apparently has his secretary type it out in Word. I wonder if Jakob likes his site?

    It wouldn't win any awards for style, design, interactivity, or any of those things, but it is technically quite usable. It just isn't a site that many people feel compelled to use.

    BUT..since usability is the topic here, I have one question. What has this guy got against navigation aids? Menu strip? Site links? Something? He did provide a handy Search box, but if I don't know what the site is, how do I know what to search for? How is that highly usable?

    Did I mention that my mechanic's car often catches fire? You should see it!

    ReplyDelete
  86. You know, he does admit on his website that the pages aren't the most beautiful in the world and some of us might even consider them ugly. But he's not an artist, he's a (industrial) designer. And since you tried to compare him with other professionals, he's more of an art critic if you like. An art critic will not paint, sculpt or write, he will only comment about these.

    His expertise is in making applications more usable (ergonomic), not more pretty. For example a blue and yellow/red combination might be pretty, it might even be artistic, but after a while your eyes will start bleeding from it. It's like the fancy themes for windows managers, music players and other applications, that you use for 5 minutes to impress your friends (or girlfriend), but which you don't use on a daily basis.

    So, I'll take his advice on usability and I might even accept his comments on aesthetics, but I wouldn't expect from him to choose some pretty colors or draw a few logos and buttons. This stuff is for artists.

    ReplyDelete
  87. Dear Mr. Williams,

    You should limit yourself to asking "Why does Hank Williams suck?". Nothing good is achieved by throwing stones at other people.

    I find Jakob's site to be more readable than your own. You have tiny gray-on-gray text in a narrow column of hard-coded width. His site makes much better use of the browser window real-estate.

    Going from sites like this, which one sees everywhere, to useit.com is a bit jarring. But after spending a few minutes there and then comparing it to this blog, I can see why he is the 'expert' and you are not. People become conditioned by what is popular, and anything that does not fit that mold is then rejected. I wish people would value diversity more, but apparently this is just not human nature.

    ReplyDelete
  88. That site looks fine to me, using Konqueror/WebKit, and using Firefox 3.0.1. Must be a problem with IE. This site, however, needs more contrast, larger fontsize, and more use of screen width.

    ReplyDelete
  89. I think that Nielsen deliberately choose an anti-design" style to manifest that creative graphics are not the only thing you should care when building a website.

    To Jim Cook: Thanks for mentioning my website, I am really happy that somebody appreciated my style:)

    ReplyDelete
  90. I am a huge fan of Jakob N, and I cherish his volumes regarding web site usability. He has made a huge impact on both my design sense and how I perceive the web.

    And, yes, his site is possibly the worst example of web design ever. It would not even be acceptable in 1994. Jakob, wake up and smell the Folgers! Aesthetics is a crucial part of good UI. We all have heard that time -tested adage that "Less is more" and nothing could be more true, however, I learned a very important footnote to that many years ago from a senior CD, who told me "the fewer elements you have on a page, the more critical it is that they are designed and placed perfectly"

    Props to someone pointing out that the emperor is wearing clothes, but he borrowed them from Rod Roddy.

    Yours,

    David Card // c42d.com

    ReplyDelete
  91. Per the reference to the cobbler in the comment above, technically speaking, a cobbler is a craftsman who fixes shoes. A cordwainer is a craftsman who makes shoes.
    Perhaps Nielsen's site could use some CSS cobbling? Perhaps not?

    ReplyDelete
  92. Seems that the "religious fight" between usability and design never stops?
    Useit.com was designed to present news and updates without bells and whistles. Of course it was designed for an audience with limited bandwidth and without large sized monitors, but it is fast and it does fine. It is not a sales-oriented page that needs to attract users using fancy images and "web 2.0" style - the large number of responses show that it is read by a large number of people.
    Jacob never advocated to design all pages like his own. What I like about this page is that I find all information I need, fast and in a structured way. If this page had different content it would need a different design, matching the content.

    ReplyDelete
  93. URL contains illegal characters?

    ReplyDelete
  94. Considering that your comments area is so low contrast I can hardly read anything I don't take your objection to Jakob's site to heart :) There are tradeoffs between design and usability and hopefully designers will start thinking again about usability vs making their sites look like abstract paintings.

    ReplyDelete
  95. ok... Here's what we know for sure though...
    1. The site is attrocious, both in terms of design AND useability.
    2. Mr Nielsen is not quite as clever as he thinks he is.

    ReplyDelete
  96. Useit.com is ugly... end of story; but Jakob Nielsen is a genius.

    ReplyDelete
  97. I totally agree. The site looks terrible. He should really go for a redesign soon, or people will just look at him like a outdated museum object.

    ReplyDelete
  98. To anonymous:

    Here's that link you were looking for...Nielsen's site make-over;

    http://www.designbyfire.com/000094.html

    What (I wonder) other than pride could prevent someone from making the changes proposed in this article?

    ReplyDelete
  99. I'm afraid I've never got past the home page.

    Can someone enlighten me to his achievements that promotes such esteem?

    ReplyDelete
  100. You (and many others, including Doc) have confused usability and aesthetics.

    They are two entirely different concepts.

    Jakob is has an apparently excellent grasp on usability but useit.com manifests nothing I would recognize as aesthetically pleasing in any way, shape, or form.

    I'd hazard a guess that that is by "design".

    I am not sure I have ever heard anyone on this subject remark that the two are mutually exclusive.

    They certainly are not, though one might extract from the fact that useit.com has appalling aesthetics that Jakob might think otherwise.

    And he'd be wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  101. I think Jakob's site is fairly good-looking. I agree that the line-to-line spacing is a little too tight, but everything else looks good. In particular, I like the larger font and the ability to adjust the width of the text by adjusting the width of my browser window.

    Now, I do agree that this look would not be appropriate for all web sites, but I think most web sites would be improved by listening more to what he says, and that includes using more of his plain-but-very-usable style.

    ReplyDelete
  102. The ugly and clumsy site IS bearly usable - and certainly suggests that this self-professed "guru" is all puffery.

    ReplyDelete
  103. I'm an Industrial Design student at GT and I have a hard time appreciating useit. I also do freelance web design work so his site particularly erks me.

    This is what I think about useit:

    When I worked for Cingular we sold Nokias and Motoralas. The Nokias were ridiculously simple, large, and ugly. The Motorolas were flips and had a stupid and complex interface. Guess what the customers wanted? Motorolas, even though they were clearly inferior in terms of usability.

    Mr. Nielsen should know that design is a big usability factor. That's why Industrial Designers have jobs.

    His web site needs a navigation of some sort. And I shouldn't have to stare at it for 10 minutes to try to figure out what the heck an "alert box" is.

    ReplyDelete
  104. I think more than unreadable his site is "not easy on hte eyes" the colors are intense and the yellow he uses (as a designer I say this) is "irritating". But I think JN in general has recently ceased to evolve on some usability standards with internet users. For example, his rule about "not opening new browser windows" I find counterproductive in some cases. For example, when it comes to "logos" from sponsors or partners at the footer of a website I now EXPECT a new broswer window to open. I am actually thouroughly annoyed if that does NOT happen -- I truly stop using those websites. Same applies you are shopping online and comparing prices then click on an item to review. I think Both google and blogs have accustomed us to this use of certain kinds of linked items and I he over generalizes by adding that to his top 10 rules.

    ReplyDelete
  105. Jakob Nielsen is the web's equivalent of a Right Wing Christian Fundamentalist. For someone who professes and moralizes 'usability', his site (and meager body of work) is astonishingly deficient in basic typography and design. His sanctimonious finger-pointing at Flash and 'MMN' is about as convincing as an adulterous church minister preaching against fornication.

    While JN is entitled to his bogus pulpit, my problem is the audience who have been bullied into embracing his rhetoric, who then go on to be creative sumbling blocks in the industry. You know, those inexperienced digital producers or designers who can't come up with any innovative/beautiful/usable concepts because they are busy quoting Jakob Nielsen at every brainstorming session.

    Good interface design and usability is an evolving, intuitive process. You learn through a system of observation, imagination and honest evaluation.

    ReplyDelete
  106. Content is king. Jakob Nielsen delivers good content.

    ReplyDelete
  107. There are the people in the world who want to make things that are good, and the people who want to make things that are great, and one isn't slightly higher than the other - they're diametrically opposed.

    You'll never create something great by following rules like Nielsen's - even if they did make sense. Someone above pointed out the difference between giving people what they want (really, what they think they want) and what they need. For those of us who are artists (and not technicians, who clearly feel obligated to defend Nielsen) the road to creating unique, beautiful, and useablel works leads directly away from would-be gurus like this.

    ReplyDelete
  108. Hi! I found your article as I was writing mine about Nielsen's Useit.com. I don't agree with all of Nielsen's guidelines but I still think he publishes interesting and useful content. I also think his site needs to be improved and not just in terms of aesthetics. His site doesn't have a menu, it doesn't follow Nielsen's own "Law of Web User Experience" when it comes to site identity, it uses questionable terminology (Alertbox?) and content organization. Also, as you pointed out, its pages are not always easy to scan. Nielsen often refers to Don Norman's book "Emotional Design" and says useit.com works well on the reflective level (prestige, how people feel about it afterward). But I think it would be best if he made an effort to make it work on the visceral level as well (appearance, initial impact). Norman's book does say that attractive things are perceived to work better by users.

    Anyway, you can read more about my arguments here: http://www.webandgadgets.com/why-i-dont-like-jakob-nielsens-useit-com/

    ReplyDelete
  109. Hi! I found your article as I was writing mine about Nielsen's Useit.com. I don't agree with all of Nielsen's guidelines but I still think he publishes interesting and useful content. I also think his site needs to be improved and not just in terms of aesthetics. His site doesn't have a menu, it doesn't follow Nielsen's own "Law of Web User Experience" when it comes to site identity, it uses questionable terminology (Alertbox?) and content organization. Also, as you pointed out, its pages are not always easy to scan. Nielsen often refers to Don Norman's book "Emotional Design" and says useit.com works well on the reflective level (prestige, how people feel about it afterward). But I think it would be best if he made an effort to make it work on the visceral level as well (appearance, initial impact). Norman's book does say that attractive things are perceived to work better by users.

    Anyway, you can read more about my arguments here: http://www.webandgadgets.com/why-i-dont-like-jakob-nielsens-useit-com/

    ReplyDelete
  110. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  111. http://blogation.net/2010/05/09/why-jakob-nielsen-has-a-crappy-web-site/

    ReplyDelete
  112. Even his IA is terrible. He has a link to 421 alertbox columns. You click and its a huge unreadable slew of... you guessed it 421 alertbox columns.

    Not sorted by focuses such as Mobile, Eye-tracking, Best Practices, etc. Just a huge hot mess.

    Really?

    If his argument is he doesn't have time to fix it that's terrible. It kinda tells you how much weight he gives to usability "practice." Do what I say and not what I do is wearing a bit thin.

    ReplyDelete
  113. Why are we arguing this? The man is praising the use of the MICROSOFT RIBBON in the article you linked to. He already lost all credibility as a usability expert!

    Having said that, I think he does have some really good points just because he's constantly thinking about usability and testing things, but everything he says should be taken with a grain of salt. He obviously is not a naturally talented usability expert but more of a clueless scientist type. Please don't live by this guy's rules - but it doesn't mean you can't find some nuggets of wisdom on his site if you're willing to look through the horribly formatted sea of text.

    ReplyDelete
  114. Awesome article! I want people to know just how good this information is in your article. It’s interesting, compelling content. Your views are much like my own concerning this subject.

    ReplyDelete