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|Mastery, Mystery and Misery - Jakob Nielsen|
In his new Alertbox column, Jakob Nielsen serves up some excellent points.
|MASTERY: A simple user interface is not boring. It excites users because it lets them connect with the content and engage the company behind the site. |
MYSTERY: Website designers stare at their designs all day, every day. In contrast, users visit for four minutes and then leave....Don't aim at an exceptional experience for yourself and your team members.
MISERY: ...mainly espoused by certain analysts who wish the Web would turn into television and offer users no real choices at all. Splash pages, pop-ups, and breaking the Back button are typical examples of the misery ideology.
It is a real pitfall for designers, developers and marketers, to think that we are "in control". We sit at our monitors, press a few keys, and things change magically. ("Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," we say.)
We can very easily slip into a high-handed hubris and then wonder why stats show that we are less than appreciated by our audience. I know that I struggle with this, in myself and with the teams I work with.
Jakob often seems to be a bit of an iconoclast, but this time I think he's nailed it. And as much as we complain about his website's "design", I found that I easily read every word of this particular column.
Ahhh, if only more of my potential clients would read these articles when I show them, instead of being swayed by the sales dept, of the local IT gurus.....
'Mystery' may be pasť but nobody told these guys, LOL
Great article ted - thanks for posting the link!
So many designers still think that simplicity and clearness is lack of design... Not that they do not know about good design or that they lack taste. It is perhaps that the 'gotta be complex and weird to be web design' idea is still too engrained. Aargh!
I believe a site should
1) load load quickly
2) have no distracting animations. (A slow, tasteful and subtle animation like a pretty girl blinking is ok)
3) be easy to navigate so users can find everything. Links should stand out as links without having to move the mouse over them.
4) not use gharish colors
5) display on all (major) browsers without things going wrong like text overlaps
I think that still leaves plenty of room for artistry.
And there lies a world of potential greatness or potential pratfalls. The choice of the menu "labels" alone is a huge piece of the Information Architecture discipline.
For example, I loved Nielsen's choice of a bad label: "Lifestyle".
It's one of those feel-good nebbisch words that pop culture has been generating - a word that communicates almost nothing. And yet many sites (especially directories) dive right for it, because it feels like a good place to stash all sorts of things.
This is really a "junk drawer" label, and it communicates almost nothing to the user. In fact, I'm beginning to think that anytime a site feels like it needs a junk drawer label, then the architecture is still only half baked.
As with any junk drawer, it's almost impossible for a user to imagine what might be in there, or easily find what they need even when they suspect that this is the location.
We've got to stay focused on the main purpose of a site - delivering real communication, rather than decoration and amusement. It may be art, but it's COMMERCIAL art and it needs to serve and support a business purpose.
It doesn't help that so much of print advertising is also way off-base in this area. That just reinforces a misguided, wrong-headed, over-controlling, eye-candy-showoff approach.
|King of Bling|
Too funny ('junk drawers' and 'winking girls'), I love it.
Anyway, you gotta KISS you website. Keep It Simple Stupid. Don't make your visitors think. Most important is the Information Architecture - it takes a lot of time to assemble information in the way your users think of it.
Spend the bulk of your time there and the conversions will follow.
|So many designers still think that simplicity and clearness is lack of design |
Here in Cleveland about a year ago, we had a hostage situation in the Peter B. Lewis Building [weatherhead.cwru.edu]
The sitution was made worse by the fact that the "innovative" design of the building made it impossible for the police to get in safely or the "hostages" to get out. The reason the word "hostages" is in quotes is because the gunman never really held any of them at gun point, but as the building has no corners and has basically constantly curving halls, there was no way to leave without possibly literally running into the gunman. It was also mentioned that it was very easy to get lost in the building due to the sweeping halls and organic layout. The gunman did not hold them hostage, the building did.
My thought was that they were lucky they lost only one life in that stand off. And I shuddered to think what would have happened if it had been a fire instead of a hostage situation.
Either way, the whole thing made a very good example of design and usability. Certain things (like the grids that most buildings are based on) are not boring design, they are smart design. It would do well for many web designers to wonder for a moment if the designs they are coming up with will hold their visitors hostage.
hannamyluv, following this philosophy, the perfect building would be square, with square rooms. Each room would be numbered in matix-fashion, kind of like the grid in the game battleship. Each floor would be identical, except the room numbers would have an extra digit or two to indicate the floor they were on.
As a programmer/DBA, this building greatly appeals to me, and it certainly would be easy to navigate. People would never get lost, and building maintenance costs would probably be lower due to the repetition.
This is the world that I would like to live in, unfortunately no one would pay me to create such a building!
|unfortunately no one would pay me to create such a building! |
What you just described sounds like your average skyscaper to me, and last time I checked, people get paid big bucks to build those.
Creativity is a fine thing, but when form overshadows function (which is part of the point that Mr. Nielsen is trying to make) you have accomplished nothing but stroking the designers ego. If a designer so badly wants to create something thought provoking without proper function, they should become artists.
I'd disagree, unless you want the term 'art' to be meaningless, this stuff is a craft at best, a fun craft at times when you have good clients, but there's almost no actual real art that i can see in doing web engineering work, whether from a coding or a design end, web stuff is the ultimate in disposable virtual production, not a good place for art to live though I've seen people try now and then.
|I found that I easily read every word of this particular column. |
So did I, but only because I'm using Firefox user stylesheets that set a default max-width: 34em for paragraphs [needed it so I can read all those 'compliant' websites like w3c or apache without having to resize my browser just to make the paragraphs narrow enough], that guy needs to learn something about how people actually read, max character counts per line, easy stuff to find out about, well documented, but his comments were right on, guess it's an example of those who can't do teach.
Personally, when I see ugly unformatted text like that I tend to think, oh, amateur, which I think is what most people would think on first impression. Clean simple design is still design, it's very hard to do, obviously not something he's interested in learning from the look of his site.
But the points are good, flash/frames, etc, make the interface too complex and the user leaves or gets confused then leaves, one day flash will be obsolete for that purpose completely I hope.
|Website designers stare at their designs all day, every day. In contrast, users visit for four minutes and then leave. |
Spot on, Jacob.
Have y'all ever experienced a web design class? Here in Los Angeles, I have taught them and been subjected to them ad nauseum.
Part of this problem lies with the education many new designers are receiving. The classes usually begin with good concepts, like KISS and user-friendliness and intuitive circulation. Then they move into the "tools" training. THAT's where the separation from what's needed begins.
I am often called upon to rebuild sites that have been poor producers for the owners, only to find that the sites are riddled with "cool features" that do nothing but inhibit the goals of the website, while providing a "neat" portfolio item for the designer.
Until the focus of web development training shifts to a visitor-oriented perspective, and places the "cool" stuff on the back burner, we will continue to see a glut of poorly-designed sites that are playgrounds for the developer, and not an asset to the owners.
Oh well. At least they'll LOOK like a pretty art school project. And what masterful "Lifestyle" buttons they shall have! :)
|Personally, when I see ugly unformatted text like that I tend to think, oh, amateur, which I think is what most people would think on first impression. Clean simple design is still design, it's very hard to do, obviously not something he's interested in learning from the look of his site. |
Nielsen's right, and I'm happy that someone with his influence is writing about this, but his own site undermines his every word.
Consistently, and for years now, he's apparently never understood that good, usable, accessible design of material meant for reading begins and ends with good typography. Without at least adequate typography, content is unreadable and unusable. Nielsen's refusal to take into account the most basic typograpical concerns - such as limiting the text block to a readable width, or (gasp!) having margins so the text can breathe - makes it very hard for me to take him seriously. (Admittedly, the available CSS tools for typesetting are mediocre, but he makes no attempt to make his content easy to read other than using a rather large-sized type)
I suspect that he would answer such a criticism by saying that not specifying the width of the text block allows the reader to size it themselves. True perhaps, but only by forcing the reader to resize their browser windows (if they regard the content as important enough). This is awfully similar to some of the things he complains about. Nielsen's a perceptive guy; but he should also be smart enough to realize that taking no thought for a site's typography can be just as much of an impediment to accessing the content as a complicated and overdone user interface.
|[Nielsen says] Complying with design standards and conventions is one of the main strategies for strengthening users' feelings of mastery. |
So why does he choose to ignore the entire history of the printed word up until the invention of Lynx? As isitreal points out it's pretty easy to learn about the ideal readable lengths for lines of roman type - there are centuries of good models out there - but Jakob's too smart to learn about them.
|the available CSS tools for typesetting are mediocre |
True. But at the very least Nielsen could have used a simple blockquote and a serif typeface in a more-standard size.
I took another look at that site, then at the various references he lists, acclaiming his work, then another look at his work, his site that is, and I have to say, this guy is seriously undermining anything he says about useability or design by the complete and utter lack of either design or useability in his layout, he doesn't know how to design, it's completely obvious, and what's worse, he doesn't care at all, which means anything he says about design is totally worthless as far as I'm concerned.
It looks like he's stuck in around 94-96 and never bothered learning more than a smattering about what was happening to the web, this is not somebody I'm going to pay much attention to in general, show me the skills and I'll respect what you say, but this kind of site looks like pretty much any site I've ever seen done by programmers who know next to nothing about css or html because it's 'so easy' to do...
The general observations on flash are sort of a dugh gee really to anybody who works with this, hardly a revelation or original, I'll stick to tedster's far more enlightening and educational and thought provoking threads I think when it comes to useability or design, especially information design.
Thanks, isitreal. Can you help me get the kind of fees Jakob gets ;)
|I suspect that he would answer such a criticism by saying... |
I've been looking for the reference and can't find it, but Nielsen has said that such criticism is valid for today's web, and he just doesn't have the free resources to re-do his site. And with his fees, he must mean free time, not money.
In other words, either you want to read what he has to say or not, take it or leave it. He's been designing and testing the usability of computer interfaces since the early days at Sun Microsystems, and he has his (large) audience - so that's that.
Have you seen his book "Home Page Usability"? Now that is a beautiful and highly usable book! But knocking the design of useit is a widely loved hobby on the web. I've even seen redesign contests, done with his blessing.
I have no real problem with the useit site anyway - I just resize my browser window and read the content. I get much more irritated whem I can't understand what someone's link text is telling me, or the force a new window, or break the back button, or...
|One of misery design's most insidious recent examples is the idea of embedding links to advertising on the actual words of an article using a service like IntelliTxt. By sullying the very concept of navigation, .... |
I read the article the other night when Tedster (who apparently never sleeps) first posted this thread. The quote above has been nagging at me ever since.
Anyone else wonder about this?
The "IntelliTxt"-like linking of keywords within an article absolutely destroys readability. I find sites who use the system very cumbersome, as the flow is disrupted by each link - especially when the article is about, say, Microsoft, and each time the word "Microsoft" appears in the text, it is highlighted with a link (or a link, a search icon and a stock-price link!). Talk about overload.
As most visitors to a site "scan" the text rather than read line by line, this kind of linking interupts that process by dragging the eye to the very words which are the least important - especially if the word in in the title anyway (you know who the article is talking about, you don't need to hammer it home five times per paragraph).
A far better approach is a "related links" section on the right-hand column or below the article with the appropriate links to the companies, references and other relevant information.
I realize he was specifically speaking of IntelliTXT, but I wonder if there is a message there regarding in-content advertising links in general.
In general, I wonder how this line of thinking might apply to say, affilate links, authority sites, or even to links to other related sections of your own site.
|he has his (large) audience - so that's that. |
From what I've seen, there's a pretty serious intertia in the bureaucratic world, where when somebody has the choice of who to hire for consulting or speaking will pick the big name even if the big name is long past his prime, sort of the 'nobody ever got fired for buying [fill in the blank]' syndrome, doesn't mean the person is worth anything.
Since what he's saying is pretty much no dugh common sense, at least to me, I've been saying that for years and I didn't need to read Nielson, I just had to look at what designers would put up. I think his observations are a mystery only to designers, I guess I'll be on the 'why bother' side of Nielson, at least until he demonstrates some ability to do at least some part of what he advocates. His book probably wasn't laid out by him, but by some highly skilled book designer is my guess.
He seems pretty typically scandinavian to me, in his linear thinking and his rigidity, easy for me to spot since I am one too.
|Nielsen's right, and I'm happy that someone with his influence is writing about this, but his own site undermines his every word. |
Consistently, and for years now, he's apparently never understood that good, usable, accessible design of material meant for reading begins and ends with good typography. Without at least adequate typography, content is unreadable and unusable. Nielsen's refusal to take into account the most basic typograpical concerns - such as limiting the text block to a readable width, or (gasp!) having margins so the text can breathe - makes it very hard for me to take him seriously.
Bedlam -- I'm so so glad someone else made this point. I couldn't agree more.
I thought Neilsen's article was great -- except he spent too much time telling us about the Harry Potter site, which was an exception, and he didn't mention how it may cause download problems because of the large graphics etc.
Apart from that, I entirely agreed with him, but have always had reservations about his own site -- reservations that Bedlam has expressed better than I ever could.
|regarding in-content advertising links in general |
For me, his comments on this mean that disguising advertisement links as content links could (I believe he implies "does") cause visitors to become cynical about the use of links in context, devaluing what has been a valuable "drill down" tool.
If visitors start to believe that any in-content link is going to be an advertisement, then they will start to devalue ANYthing an in-content link connects to, even useful information.
It's the type of psychological issue that makes the already difficult task of developing trust even more difficult. When the overall cynicism level rises among web surfers, it's that much harder to do our jobs.
|If visitors start to believe that any in-content link is going to be an advertisement, then they will start to devalue ANYthing an in-content link connects to, even useful information. |
That's pretty much what I was wondering about.
If does become the case, then using things like in-content affilate links could have an overall negative effect in the long run, at least on some sites. Which seems to bolster this position Encyclo posted earlier....
|A far better approach is a "related links" section on the right-hand column or below the article with the appropriate links to the companies, references and other relevant information. |
Hmm someone wrote that a good design is a design which you don't notice is there. Or something similar :P
Good designs are like good people. Youd hardly notice them
I agree. Have you ever said "WOW!, how cool!" with a Coke bottle, a WV Beetle car, an Underwood typewriter, a 35mm film cartridge... An Roman designed urban plan?
That said, I'd like if Nielsen would ever accept that the idea of visual legibility of type is to be included in the realms of web accesibility and usability.
|I'd like if Nielsen would ever accept that the idea of visual legibility of type is to be included in the realms of web accesibility and usability |
That's the point, as is well noted, good design is not noticed, it just seems to be right, nothing jumps out at you. That's why this Nielson guy has zero business talking about design. Not only does the lack of design or user accessibility jump out at you instantly on his site, he stubbornly refuses to fix it even though people have offered to do it for free. And it could be fixed without changing a character of html on the page.
Anyway, I guess there will always be people who are more impressed by what people say than what people do, I try to pay more attention to what they do and less to what they say, except to check that what they say has some connection to what they do.
If this connection is missing I pretty much lose any interest in anything the person has to say, why bother, there's way too much stuff to read and learn to waste time with people like that.
This is why I'll stick to reading guys like tedster, who for example claimed that drop menus reduce click through rates, implemented a test of that claim, then showed the results, which supported the claim, and so on... In other words, he implemented and tested what he was talking about on his own sites, then reported back with results based on that test.
I agree with Nielsen that websites should be simple to use. However, I still enjoy the fact that each website has it's own unique look and feel. Even though most people are looking for information, they still enjoy the asthetics of the way it is presented.
If every site looked like Nielsen's website then I doubt it would have ever gained the popularity it has today.
Think about this: when you go shopping do you want every store to be set up for maximum accessibility to product information and accessibility, or would you rather the store have some design elements that make it pleasant to walk around in.
The same applies for the web -- make your site easy to use, but give it a personality and make it nice to look at.
In addition, I find the layout on his site incredibly hard to navigate. Almost without exception, web sites have a menu along the top or left hand side. His site has niether, forcing you to read through all the text to understand the way the sections are broken up.
|But at the very least Nielsen could have used a simple blockquote and a serif typeface in a more-standard size |
Actually, I think the font is something that is not wrong with his site - he uses Verdana, a font specifically designed for ease of onscreen reading. I've read research that says that serif fonts, while increasing readability in print, inhibit it onscreen. The serifs end up fuzzy or pixely due to anti-aliasing.
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