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Jakob N vs. Joshua D

Where do you see the web going?



12:19 pm on Feb 18, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The BBC today has an article [news.bbc.co.uk] on usability expert Jakob Nielson: [nngroup.com...] and web artist Joshua Davis [praystation.com...]

Basically both are considered Gurus in web design but with two very different styles and different expectations of the web and their users. I looked at the two sites today because of this article - and they are both fantastic sites - for very different reasons; leading me to the question:

Where do people here see the web going? (3 - 10 years)

And which approach is going to make money?


1:06 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I don't think praystation is a good example of web site design. It is just another place for so-called design experiments which serve no actual purpose. You can call it self-indulgence for short. As a matter of fact, using Flash for abstract vector animations is not a good idea as Flash and ActionScript are not designed for fluid motion. Java is the way to go if you need silky smooth animations but of course Java is a real programming language which isn't very much appealing for designers/artists due to its relatively complex nature.


1:58 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member chiyo is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Let's not forget also that we here tend to evaluate sites from the jaded perspective of perhaps seeing a dozen to 100's of sites a day. We tend to have a designers or SEO perspective rather than a users/customers perspective.

An "average" Web user looks at what - 10 or so sites a week, perhaps in 2 to 3 sessions?

Their experience of the Web per se is VERY different from ours. The only way a customer and our own experience comes together is when a site succeeds in its goals for both - the holy grail... The customer buys something, signs up for an email list, registers, remembers the brand, bookmarks becuase they think the site is useful - the designer succeeds in their pitch to their niche.

The BBC thing is a bit of a beat-up really. It creates debate obviously. Yet it is a designers perspective and to a large extent narcissitic - remember the customer is King.


2:30 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

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The praystation site brings to mind the "demo scene" which is basically groups of coders and musicians that put together short demos of swirly 3d objects and electronic music. Esentially each group is trying to push the limits of the hardware and show off their coding/artistic abilities. While there is a competetive edge, it has evolved into a real art form. I can see plenty of room of the web for this, as I don't think it should be limited to information in the traditional sense of left brained knowledge. However, at this point I think the tools for this type of thing are limited on the web so the artistic freedom is also limited. It seems that web designers have a tendency to think in the business box because after all, it is our business.

Having said that, when trying to convey left brained information the obvious choice is probably a more information friendly approach. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but overall I think it just takes a sensitivity to the situation. Personally I would be happy to have my designs appeal to both the left and right sides of the brain.


4:44 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

>usability expert Jakob Nielson

I have never understood why Jakob Nielson is considered a usability 'expert'. Is it because he was the first to preach it and the label stuck?

Useit.com is one of the most frustrating sites I have ever used. Lists upon lists of links and no common navigation anywhere. It is so easy to get lost on that site it drives me crazy.


4:57 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member woz is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I must say I quite often find sites that are purportedly about usability but are themselves somewhat unusable. Makes me chuckle everytime.



5:23 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

1. Tried praystation on Netscape 4.76 on Win98 with JavaScript and Java enabled, and Flash. Got a screen that showed a map and calender and the beginnings of some sound, but then the browser froze. Lost mouse control. Tried a double CTL-ALT-DEL. Nothing happened. I was about to do a power-down when the second CTL-ALT-DEL kicked in about 30 seconds later and my box rebooted. Fortunately, no Scandisk required.

2. Since I saw a "loading applet" message with Newscape 4.76, I tried it with K-Meleon with Java and JavaScript both disabled, but with Flash still there. Same story, so it wasn't the applet, if indeed there was an applet. Lost the mouse before I could even do a right-click to see the source code and find out if there was an applet.

3. Reboot happened the same as in step 1, so now I used my trusty WGET to fetch the index.html file. All it showed was that I'd have to WGET about four different frames of stuff to see what was going on. Not that interested.

4. Tried it in IE 5.5. Got four layers of warning popups saying that my ActiveX is disabled. You're damn right it's disabled! I always have JavaScript disabled in IE also, and I don't allow any IE downloads, and I never use Outlook. Do you think I'm stupid, or something? Nothing else at all shows up on the screen, except for a dim outline of three empty frames.

End of story.

This is the future of the Web?


5:28 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member mivox is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Is it because he was the first to preach it and the label stuck?

I think that's a big part of it... The web is such a new medium, it's hard for anyone to be more than a self proclaimed expert in their chosen field. Personally, I think Jakob's most apparent area of expertise is self-promotion. ;)

But really, I do read useit.com, because his advice, taken with a grain of salt, can be worthwhile. Or at the very least, it gives me a new perspective to consider. I also occasionally spend time browsing through self-important "art" sites, and ogling at Flash gizmos. SOmetimes they give me ideas I can tone down and use in my own work.

What I can't figure out (as quite a few have already noted above) is why a website can supposedly be either usable or artistic, but never both. Or why the web will go in one direction or the other, rather than expanding in all directions.

Look at music, television, or any other major area of human endeavor... since when did ANYTHING go "one way" or "the other?" That's not the way it works. You've got self-published books of poetry about people's childhood pets, and you've got War and Peace... and then you've got that awful technical manual for the VCR over in the corner. Classical music did not die when jazz was invented, nor did jazz die when rock and roll came along, [insert comparison relating to favorite topics here], etc., etc., ad infinitum.

There's at least as much room for both awfulness and greatness on the web as there is in the literary, artistic or broadcast media world. And what's awful to one person may well be great to another. And things can be great in more than one way... A site can be both beautiful and usable, or it can be hideous and confusing, or whatever.


7:50 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

I couldn't understand a damn thing on that praystation site. I thought it was utter rubbish.

I think Nielsen takes useability way to far thuogh.


Serious money in apps that span devices. Which for now means simple and useable.


8:02 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

lawman > In 3-10 years, internet connections way faster than DSL will be ubiquitous. The camp making money on website design hasn't yet been conceived.

I am afriad it has Lawman and it is the main content providers of today .. TV Stations (esp digital TV stations) ..

They already work in multimedia, already have massive content plus creation and editing facilities and staff and they are merging with connectivity and other media players specifically to exploit the future high speed networks. Think about CNN and the BBC you can almost see the future ...


9:18 am on Feb 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

You can please some of the people some of the time but not all the people all of the time.

Everyone has their own preconceived idea of what is good - whether its a car, film, man, woman, house, job, hobby or even web site.

People go to a site with a mental image of what they think is good and judge the site on that criteria.

To create a good site is to straddle the middle ground and deliver a little of both extremes.


5:42 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

A great debate, this.

Listen, the beauty of the web is that it's in a constant state of flux. That's why, when diagrammed, it's depicted as a gaseous form. Is there a place for low-res, text oriented sites? Yes. Is there a place for high-end, avant-garde artsy design? Of course. Two different camps, but the same medium.

Browser manufacturers can't even agree on what the user experience should be, so how can we, as designers, agree or cast judgement? The bottom line is the user, and trying to balance what the customer wants with what the user needs. I have the utmost respect for Davis and his ilk, just as I have respect for Nielson and his push for greater web usability. Myself? I try to draw a line between the two: develop usable sites that look decent and appealing. I have yet to be completely satisfied with any site I've done, but, again, that's the beauty of the web. You always, in the immortal words of John Cleese, "adopt, adapt and improve".


6:19 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have a big problem with what a lot of people on the web see as "art"...in my previous job I worked for an arts producer dealing with cutting edge conceptual artists such as Cornelia Parker, the Chapmans, or the late lamented Helen Chadwick...it seems to me that what a lot of people refer to as "art" on the web owes a lot more to graphic design as used in magazines or computer games than it does to anything in the art world

most great art is actually extremely simple...there may be a massive amount of complexity involved, but it is all under the hood


6:41 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

lawman says:

> In 3-10 years, internet connections way faster than DSL will be ubiquitous.
> The camp making money on website design hasn't yet been conceived.

I disagree. There's no way anyone can get rich off of hooking up fiber for the last mile. Most folks don't need 500 digital channels on demand; I cancelled my cable TeeVee after trying it for 30 days, because it took me 30 minutes to click through 60 channels just to find out what was on. The same movies over and over, lots of commercials on most of the other channels, lots and lots of crap. It's less stressful to watch a sitcom rerun on a network broadcast if you're trying to turn your mind off for 30 minutes.

In fact, you can't even get rich off of dark transoceanic fiber anymore; the junk-bonders have already raked off their hundreds of millions and flown the coop (former Global Crossing CEO Gary Winnick was a salesman for Michael Milken in the 1980s). And not only is the last mile a huge bandwidth bottleneck, but broadband for wireless devices doesn't even have a theoretical solution in sight.

It's okay, though, because there isn't enough decent content available to even bother hooking up fiber to the home. We've hit a plateau; what you see now is just about the way it will remain for at least 10 years.

They started stringing coax cable to residences 30 years ago. Lots of residences don't have it even today. I've lived in perhaps 20 apartments over those 30 years, in various parts of the U.S., and the apartment I'm in now is the first time cable has even been available. In New York City you're stuck with copper in many older buildings; they break out the champagne when they can grab two test-okay copper pairs to the central office, because that means they can have a T1 to their server.

Nope, forget the hype. This is the morning after on the Web.


7:00 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

furthermore there is no law that states people will want to keep the same device and simply add more and more bandwidth...a lot of research is going into making smaller devices web capable...the future will not bring higher bandwidth all round...it will bring a greater range of bandwidths being used


8:31 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

>>Am I alone in thinking that both sites are actually quite bad?<<

Nope, I agree completely. IMO, a web page should either present useful information or attempt to lead you to that information. The praystation site left me clueless.

The Nielson site presented me with a pile of text links of more or less equal weight. It wasn't clear where they wanted me to go. It's personal preference, perhaps, but I'd much rather present the user with 3 - 6 well-defined, highlighted choices that can be scanned in seconds. Ancillary links and navigation aids are fine, but they should be presented with less emphasis so as not to present the visitor with too many choices to sort through.

Of course, that's what makes the web great - diverse options for diverse users.


9:43 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


Agreed completely, users should have a very limited number of main options to select from. Give them over 10 main choices to select from and they are lost. Both sites look terrible to me, Nielsens site is Almost OK except it is kind of disorganized and ugly; praystation is just bad as in unusable and not too pretty either...


9:45 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

>The Nielson site presented me with a pile of text links of more or less equal weight. It wasn't clear where they wanted me to go.


Classic. That's exactly how I feel about that site. It's so damn useable that it's *useless*



12:03 pm on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Neilson wins, hands down. Google is simple, easy to use, and lightweight. Flash, well, isn't.


11:52 pm on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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>Neilson wins, hands down. >Google is simple, easy to >use, and lightweight. Flash, >well, isn't.

I don't like to speak out against a fellow duck, but this looks like a classic case of bad workman blaming his tools.

Flash web sites are as usable as you design them - blaming Flash for bad Flash sites is like blaming HTML for bad HTML web sites.

Flash has the potential to build more usable and compatible interfaces than HTML/DHTML/JavaScript.


12:15 am on Feb 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

jakob nielsen is highly overated... except by himself.

Though I certainly believe in useability - I will never choose a phone book as my preferred reading material.

And that my friends, pretty well sums it up! ;)


10:13 am on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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And [useit.com...] is still one of the "butt ugliest!" sites I have ever seen! Useable? Only if eye-strain is the least of your worries! Someone get that Jakob guy a book on design.. okay?


12:54 pm on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

PapaBear, as much as I like Jake, I have to agree. It is a conundrum of a site. At one point in time, I could see how easy it would have been too use - I think that time has passed. We've all gotten used to the idea of a simple menu and hierarchal structure to websites, that Useit is now confusing.

I don't read there as much as I'd like because everything is hard to find. What I would give for some simple index/toc pages leading to all the stories.

...fascinating thread.


5:14 pm on Feb 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

"...fascinating thread."

Neilson is completely over-rated, I dont agree with a lot of what he says. I've seen and read much better usability books than his.
Everytime I go to useit.com, the first thing I cringe over is having to click "Search" and going to a new page to use the search.
I know he's not a designer and he explains this throughout his site - but come on!

If we were to debate between usability vs creative arts on the web I would say that Usability (not all Neilson's ideas/beliefs) is where all commercial web design should focus on. But saying that - the type of creativity we are talking about (not just Davis's) is an asset for all web designers and it will change the way that sites are designed.


10:04 am on Feb 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I agree that useit.com, and the corporate site for The Nielsen-Norman Group as well, are both pretty rough on the eye. But that's not what his clients' sites look like, and he's not at all set against graphics or aesthetic design.

His recent book, Homepage Usability, covers the Home page of many major sites -- and the deconstruction he shares in it is remarkably astute. The changes he suggests would not result in an overly stripped down look, but they would result in a more usable site. He addresses things like the size and visibility of a site search box, the writing of informative headlines, confusing labels and so on.

If you get around a copy in bookstore, it's worth a browse at least. You may be happily surprised. I know I took away a lot that I put into immediate use. And I still use Photoshop!


4:52 pm on Feb 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Where do people here see the web going? (3 - 10 years)
I see more of minimalistic usability style. If you ponder the future for a second, you will realize that the internet connection speeds are increasing dramatically for home/small businesses. In less than 10 years, we've gone from 14400bps analog phone modems to 500mbps cable modems. What is going to happen in another 10 years? I don't see how our current cabling will be sufficient. A lot of Cable companies won't even run cable lines into old business districts because of the cost. What about replacing cabling in every major city in the US? Think about if they had to replace cabling in every large apartment building built 10+ years ago?
The cost of faster network connections is coming down, way down! It seems logical the only other way is wireless networking!

This means wireless devices to get online with; be it a desktop computer or a PDA-like devices. Maybe not in 10 years or 20 years, but I'm 90% sure that in the future we'll be carry around a tablet-like device that will contain a highspeed(faster than current cable modem/dsl technology) internet connection. If you've ever used a PDA you know how small he screen is. You just can't put a lot of artwork on them. It's almost all about usability. Sure the screens may get larger allowing us to add artwork and people will still use desktops keeping the need for graphically pleasing web sites, but I have a feeling the majority of what will come in the future will be quick access to information on the web via a PDA-like device.

(yes I have a Sony Clie that can connect to the internet via IrDA to my Nokia 8290 cell phone)


8:22 pm on Feb 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Ted, you may be correct about Jakob's clients' sites... but somehow the analogy of "hiring a plumber to replace all of you home's plumbing and selecting the plumber whose own house is full of plugged toilets, clogged drains and leaky faucets," seems very appropiate for Nielson and Useit.com, if I were a potential client and I visited Nielson's nightmare site, I would look elsewhere for a consultant.

"The emperor really IS naked!"


9:03 pm on Feb 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Tedster, an interesting side issue re: home pages

When signing up a new customer, one of our first tasks is to rid them of the idea that all visitors arrive at the home page. If we design the site well, many, (perhaps most), of their visitors will enter the site through whatever page Google found.

For most sites, home page usability is only significant if you apply the lessons to ALL the pages on the site.

I know you already know that, but thought it was worth mentioning,



10:59 pm on Feb 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Right you are, 4eyes. Especially as a site matures, it's healthy to have more pages views for many of the internal pages than you get for the Home Page.

Home Pages have perhaps a bigger challenge than internal pages because they need to represent the entire site in some fashion, and this can lead to chaos very easily.

When you are on an internal page, there is a more precise focus - as long as you offer clear-cut navigation to higher levels, then you're doing well from a usability viewpoint.

If a web business is big enough to want a consultant just for usability, I can see why Nielsen-Norman might attract (obviously they do!) Such a business already has teams for design and content and marketing. They want someone highly focused on usability as a discipline. That dry style on Jakob's websites speaks of scientific measure and geekdom, not opinions and aesthetics which can be the downfall of usability.

At any rate, Jakob seems to be doing OK professionally, so I'm not going to lose any sleep over the look of his website. And I'm happy for what I've learned from him.


5:41 pm on Feb 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member ciml is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I don't understand the either/or thing. Nielsen's Alertbox is basically a blog for his thoughts and, of course, advocacy. It's not an example of how to build any particular type of Web site. Similarly, PrayStation is Davis' playground for new ideas. It's not my cup of tea but I really don't mind if people want to stare at it, click on it or ignore it. However:

Jushua Davis: "The notion of appliances shaking hands and chatting, transparently, will be something will not only embrace but welcome in order to automate our lives into simplicity."

I just hope that whoever designs my in-car navigation, food preparation device or bathwater temperature control has more in common with Nielsen than Davis. The same goes for a news site, online shop, business portfolio, discussion forum, etc.

There are times (Friday afternoon usually) when it's quite nice to stare at the screen saver, and there are times when I just want to order a new book or two, log off and go do something else.


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