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Jakob Nielsen Interview on Web Site Redesigns 248

securitas writes "CIO Insight's executive editor Brad Wieners interviews Web site design usability evangelist Jakob Nielsen about design mistakes like poor search, discusses organizational resistance and common barriers to doing usability reviews, concluding with Nielsen's Adobe PDF and pop-up pet peeves, common redesign errors and budget advice when it's time for a redesign, either for your Web site or company intranet. And just to make it more usable and readable (so you don't have to click through multiple pages), you can read the entire Jakob Nielsen interview on one printer-friendly page with fewer graphics and a bandwidth-saving document size for people using dial-up Internet connections. You might also like to read a previous Ask Slashdot from March 2000 and Jakob Nielsen's answers to those questions."
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Jakob Nielsen Interview on Web Site Redesigns

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  • Thankfully (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:31PM (#9609598)
    His website, [], hasn't been redesigned and is still as useable and pretty as ever.
    • by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:49PM (#9609692)
      My eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!
    • Re:Thankfully (Score:5, Interesting)

      by c0ldfusi0n ( 736058 ) <> on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:28PM (#9609862) Homepage
      Pretty? Please, his site is ugly. I'm a webdesigner and i can tell you that if i'd deliver such a product to pretty much any customer, they'd slap me back to my office. I think all those pro-WAI [] critics need a reality check. True, a website such as his will probably never have any compatiblity issues with any current, past or future browsers. But it's just plain ugly. They need to realize that you can make a pretty websites (even with a thing they call images!) AND still be compatible for all computer browsers and platforms, you don't need to lower the eye pleasure to raise respect. How often have you heard "Oh, that site is pretty damn nice" compared to "Oh, that site is sooo compatible with Lynx!"?
      • Re:Thankfully (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:47PM (#9609955)

        I think all those pro-WAI critics need a reality check.

        The reason why the site is ugly is because he's a crap graphic designer. He says so all the time. It's perfectly possible to produce a website that is both accessible and pretty.

        How often have you heard "Oh, that site is pretty damn nice" compared to "Oh, that site is sooo compatible with Lynx!"?

        Every time I talk to somebody who uses Lynx? Every time a visitor finds a website through Google (the Googlebot is hardly a state-of-the-art browser, you know).

        In any case, you are confusing four separate issues here:

        1. Aesthetic appeal
        2. Browser compatibility
        3. Accessibility
        4. Usability

        These are all mostly separate issues. Jakob Neilsen talks about usability, not browser compatibility, accessibility or aesthetic appeal. If you don't understand the difference between the issues, perhaps you aren't in a position to criticise. If you think you can have a go at him without even being able to distinguish between these different issues, it is you who needs the reality check.

        • Re:Thankfully (Score:5, Insightful)

          by beakerMeep ( 716990 ) on Monday July 05, 2004 @01:18AM (#9610892)
          He might be confusing the issues but I think you are missing the point and trying to call him on semantics. What I think he was trying to say was that usability can be improved with the proper use of style (and even -eek!- graphics). Browser compatibility and accessibility BOTH fall under usability. And, aesthetic appeal and usability are not mutually exclusive. Rather good aesthetic appeal can increase usability just as often as it decreases it.

          Jacob Nielsen, while being excellent at some parts of usability is a real loss at others, namely graphics and visual style. Like it or not there are ways of using graphics and style to HELP the user discern important information from unimportant, headline from sub header, story text from link. And you can see his site uses the bare basics of this.

          This is EXACTLY the kind of thinking inside of the box that got us poor websites in the first place. He mentions how programmers use drop down menus because they are easier to verify in his article. And I am sure at the time the programmer though this would be a good thing for the user (things are nice and organized and uncluttered, the user is able to quickly select something without typing it etc. etc..) But in practice it proved to be a problem. And I think this is the case with Nielsen's site.

          When I go to his site the first thing I notice is the colors are horrific, unmatching and purposeless. Now you may think I am a crackpot and that color is subjective but it has been scientifically proven that certain colors elicit certain emotions. The next thing I notice is that the text seems unorganized and basically in a big blob. Things most people would look for as navigation links (such as about this site) are at the bottom left of the site mixed in with articles and are generally indistinct. News on the left has the news organization bolded while articles on the left have authors and dates. His use of bullet points is wrong, he doesn't indent the second line of the bullet which is automatically done in html with lists. Anyways I could go on and on.

          My point really is this -- we need to open up our minds and stop thinking about things from our own perspective. JN is VERY good at this but, like us all, he blocks out portions of the picture and sometimes those portions are big.
          • imho, while I usually hate to play the "blame microsoft" game, I put the blame squarely on them on this one - the combo box (and its modified form - the combolistbox) is their baby, and a good idea it was. The problem is that it is utterly stupid for keyboard input. I can't count the number of times that its frustrated me to find it in a program and I realize that, with 36000 entries, I'm gonna have to do a lot of searching for entries. If they'd just designed the widget to handle keyboard input better,
      • Re:Thankfully (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Tony-A ( 29931 )
        Pretty? Please, his site is ugly. I'm a webdesigner and i can tell you that if i'd deliver such a product to pretty much any customer, they'd slap me back to my office.

        Right. So much better for you make something pretty and distinctive and quite often irritating to your customer's customers. So much better to have fancy gizmos that show off your customer's broadband and annoy your customer's customers on flaky dialup. You much better to use scripts and effects to wow your customer while making the site un
    • Actually, there has been much re-designing of the Useit website from the "ring o' web designers"

      Nielson's beef isn't so much that the proposed designs suck, it's that he's not a designer and can't be bothered with keeping it from borking when he decides to add something...

      ...Of course, this is what CSS is supposed to alleviate.

      Check it out here: Re-UseIt []

      • Re:Thankfully (Score:3, Informative)

        All the top-rated entries have very strong accessibility scores, even though many (including the winning entry) make important mistakes. For instance, turn off image loading in a CSS2 capable browser and look at 8 or so of the top 10 entries, it's glaringly obvious: all the titles are missing. What they're doing is replacing header text with a CSS background image, meaning a CSS enabled browser gets an image and a text browser gets text. This is "accessible" on the assumption that CSS browsers always load i

    • by pVoid ( 607584 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @11:30PM (#9610385)
      Sometimes, he makes good points. Other times he makes ignorant points.

      And his site, as another poster mentionned, is a sight for sore eyes...

      A point he mentions in this article that peeves me is drop downs:

      The reason I think that drop-downs are so common is that the programmers want to avoid having to validate the input, but it's not really that difficult to write a little routine that checks that you have one of the authorized abbreviations.

      I've had this exact problem arise on one of the systems I'm working on. It's entering a country for your practice location. We started out by leaving it as a text input field, but soon found out that our mapquest links were working only part of the time. Investigation revealed that the country variable in the Mapquest URL can only be US. United States, USA, United States of America, America, U.S. all don't work.

      So, do I write an algorithm that goes and heuristically guesses what the country of the user is, or do I friggin use a drop down? - I use a drop down.

      So I'm peeved that he feels all proud and manly by stating that programmers are being lazy about validation. Sometimes, a drop down is what is needed. After all, the countries of this planet aren't in a constant flux. There is a domain of acceptable values, so using a drop down is legit.

      • Yes, but you're missing the point he was making.

        He doesn't like drop-down lists because you're required to use the mouse for them. You're in the middle of filling out a form, typing things up and pressing Tab to move to the next field. When you get to the country field, you need to reach for the mouse to choose your country.

        The alternative is typing "US" and selecting "Ukraine", then "Saudi Arabia", which doesn't give you what you want (but which is the way Internet Explorer does it), or hitting the down
        • I call BS on this point... I have not encountered a browser yet, where you have to use a mouse for drop downs, and none that I can recall in recent years. where typing say U while that drop down is selected will not go to the "U". Most will automatically go down one if UU is pressed, so you don't even have to move your hand from the key to go down.

          If you have so many that you have more than 5 or so per letter, then you should start investigating alternative methods. But up until that point, he is wrong..

      • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday July 05, 2004 @03:23AM (#9611352) Journal
        He makes it quit clear why he doesn't like dropdowns (as someone who has to the select "the netherlands" "netherlands" "holland" "benelux" from a list I don't either) and says that he thinks that instead of making the USER work you should make the computer/programmer work.

        Less work for me to type in NL or nl or Nl or nL or holland or holand or netherlands or neetherlands or the netherlands. (and if you can't limit a text field to accept only 2 letters and in upper case you shouldn't be building websites)

        Now it is up to you to program your site in a way that it can work with this. Isn't too hard. In fact is pretty easy. Mysql and PHP already come with tools for this. they can check for similarity between words.

        You can argue if dropdowns or text input are better but saying that you are to lazy as a programmer just proves his point.

        • My point was that I *wasn't* lazy.

          I don't know how you read my post, but my point is that I'm not going to write error prone code that does _guess work_ instead of using a widget that is designed to do just what I need: restrict the answers to a certain domain.

          Why do drop downs exist if I'm not supposed to use them in this the only application they have? If they are difficult to use because they jump stupidly, then the widgets have an issue. But from a UI perspective, a drop down is *exactly* what is n

      • by gnu-generation-one ( 717590 ) on Monday July 05, 2004 @07:36AM (#9612065) Homepage
        "So I'm peeved that he feels all proud and manly by stating that programmers are being lazy about validation. Sometimes, a drop down is what is needed. After all, the countries of this planet aren't in a constant flux. There is a domain of acceptable values, so using a drop down is legit."

        Consider a region imagemap followed by a detail imagemap? Textbox for 2-digit codes (hint: they're standard) with a list of common ones? List of 5 countries with "Other" which displays the full list below?

        Look at ISO 3166. Measure how long it takes someone to type "US" compared to how long it takes them to locate "US" at the bottom of a 239-item checkbox (only to find that you put it at the top)

        Dropdowns may seem legit until you waste 5 minutes wondering whether you need to look in U for UK or B for britain or E for england or G for great britain or whether they've put US and UK at the top (or bottom) completely out out of alphabetical order. Why, thankyou for the tour of the world within your 1x1-inch scrollbox, but either get something usable, or detect the country my IP is in and suggest something, it's not that difficult. Can a student of information theory tell us why it should be easier to specify Afghanistan than the USA in your application. When did you last get a visitor from there?
  • by veddermatic ( 143964 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:39PM (#9609637) Homepage


    His site violates tons of usability ideas, and while I support his in general KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) ideas which have been in practice in Industrial Design for decades, he is very much a Luddite.

    Grow up Jakob, you make a lot of money ranting against everything, but for the love of god, give it a rest and let the market decide what works and what doesn't.

    • by occamboy ( 583175 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @10:39PM (#9610185)
      I know I'll get modded to Hades for this, but I can't help but asking: Am I the only person who finds Mr. Nielson's site [] to be painful to use?
      • Probably not the only person who finds it painful.

        But it seems fine to me. Sure, it isn't pretty, but he explains why there aren't any graphics (size, and he isn't a designer). And I can find information on the site. Don't really see a problem here.

        What exactly do you find painful?
      • I find Jakob Nielsen's site quite easy to use. I'm not well versed in ALL te usability guidelines out there, but it is refreshing in at least a few ways:

        * It loads quickly. There are no annoying animated, graphical buttons, intrusive pop-up/pop-under/pop-in ads, or flash animations on the page.

        * It does not break at different window sizes right down to 640 * 480. Sure, nobody uses a PC at 640 * 480 anymore, but I hate having to maximize my browser and cover up other stuff on my desktop so that a page w
      • OK, glance at the website. What is it about? Big type: it's Jakob Nielsen's Website. What's a Jakob Nielsen and what does he do? Oh, wait. Up near the top in 12 point trendy all lower-case type, it's usable information technology. Whatever the hell that means. I'm not going to see it at all unless I'm sitting at a computer and using it. So what is it? Is is Jakob Nielsen's personal website, or is is usable infromation technology? Again, whatever the hell.

        Look down a bit more, and what do we see.
    • His site violates tons of usability ideas

      Such as?

      Please list ten of the usability ideas that his site violates. If you're not trolling, you shouldn't have any problem listing ten items out of 'a ton'.
  • by MrBlue VT ( 245806 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:39PM (#9609640) Homepage
    Talk about relevant. CmdrTaco should take to heart the comment about poor search. The search capabilities of Slashdot are absolutely terrible. You can't specify any options, like searching just artitle titles, article content, or comments. Heaven forbid you want to search for two words together, you can't do it.

    Now, when I need to search Slashdot now I just go to Google and do " (query)" and pray that something relevant comes up.

    Come on Slashdot, upgrade that search function already!
    • What, and work on boring old slashdot? You gotta be kidding...slashdot is crummy and old, and cmdrtaco likes it that way. Remember the attitude, this is his site, and if you don't like it start your own.
  • But the search on individual Web sites or inside intranets is, typically, still bad. And it's bad in all the different aspects of search.

    I'm doing my part to help rectify this problem by steadfastly refusing to use or post messages on websites that have crappy search functions...

  • by DoraLives ( 622001 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:45PM (#9609676)
    Too much stuff on each page.

    In a word, clutter.

    I'm guessing that the people who design pages that look this way are the same people that, while still in school, simply COULD NOT take notes or work problems without attempting to crab EVERYTHING on to a single sheet of paper.

    It's a weird tendency and I've yet to hear a sensible explanation from anybody who does this. THEY are fully aware that it's worse than useless to crab too much stuff into a limited amount of room (especially in light of the fact that additional room comes pretty cheap), and yet somehow they're simply COMPELLED to do so.

    Good topic for a Psych Major to do a thesis on, but that's about it.

    Knock off the clutter!
    • by thulsey ( 723471 ) <thulsey@gmail.cCOFFEEom minus caffeine> on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:47PM (#9609952) Homepage
      I'm guessing you've never seen a Chinese Newspaper (or a Chinese portal site, for that matter... yikes!)

      Seriously, turn on your Chinese Fonts and take a mozy over to check some of these out:

      -- x.cfm (Just to see what a typical newspaper looks like...)

      This is TYPICAL of the type of design happening in Chinese-speaking contries -- FILL IN EVERY SPACE AVAILABLE WITH TEXT OR IMAGE TO THE POINT THAT NOTHING SEEMS TO HAVE ANY PRIORITY. Blink tags often save the day, believe it or not... A typical TV news channel is a CNN-scrolling-banner-induced NIGHTMARE... To say this happens in ALL Asian countries is a generalization and incorrect, but there is a definite preference and inclination toward simplicity and minimalism in Japan (and Korea to some extent...)

      That isn't to say that sophisticated design is not happening in these places -- far from it. It's just that the cultural expectations placed upon design, especially one that is information-based (any media) is different in different cultures.

      To me, clutter is confusing and makes the user experience difficult, at best. To others, it is expected and doesn't slow anything down.

      So really, who's to say what's usable?

      I've once attended a weekend seminar with Mr. Neilsen and other web-usability gurus (Tog comes to mind) and was impressed with what they had to say regarding testing and testing and testing again, so ultimately you could have a cluttered, to-my-own-eyes unorganized mess that could test positive for usability in the right market.

      Go figure..

  • by mikis ( 53466 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:47PM (#9609682) Homepage

    With all due respect to Mr. Nielsen, he could have started by redesigning his own site, It may be "usable", but it is... less than beautiful, to say so. He could take clue from this guys:

    Design Eye for the Usability Guy [] and
    Reuseit: redesign competition []

    • I like the current design. Plus, it doesn't have graphics! :)
    • The "Design Eye.." site is great. Especially if you're on 56k. I just went to the store, bought a steak, cooked it, drank 3 beers, had sex with my gf, and the page is still loading. Thank god there isn't any flash or animated .gif's. What's he half-life of this page's load cycle.....
    • by Trillan ( 597339 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @10:43PM (#9610208) Homepage Journal
      I hope he never takes a "clue" from either of them. Design Eye took a minute to load over a fast calbe connection, and Reuseit fills almost half of my browser window with crap that I just need to scroll past.
      • I hope he never takes a "clue" from either of them.

        They loaded fast for me, but I gotta agree with you.
        There might have been something worthwhile on one of them, but too much junk on them to wade through to make it worth the effort.
    • It may be "usable", but it is... less than beautiful, to say so. He could take clue from this guys:

      It's funny you say that because looks horrible to me. It doesn't fit my current window size and the actual content scrolls to more than 120 pages...

      Unless of course that's the kind of thing you like :-P
    • Quite the opposite, sadly. Those design guys you link are just not getting it. Nielsen's site is pretty horribly ugly, but it remains vastly superior in usability compared to the two sites you suggest he may pick up some ideas.

      Good God, the first thing one notices when going to those sites is ... fixed width design. Half my browser window suddenly has no content. Tiny fonts. One had a nice logo, but that's about it.

      It's tragic that designers just can't seem to help themselves. The greatest pain in my oc

  • is god (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nspace13 ( 654963 )
    i am a web developer and nielsen is a god around my office. his book, Designing Web Usability [] (amazon link with no developer token), is something i refer to so often to convince my boss of things.
  • by paynter ( 8696 )
    Anyone know what sort of things Dr Neilson has patented?
  • by Nspace13 ( 654963 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:51PM (#9609699) Homepage
    the w3c tip index [] is my favorite usability resource. the word of mr nielsen is second. not quite everything nielsen says is right in every situation but everything the w3c suggests is a suggest worth the weight of my toshiba laptop (a hefty 7 pounds) in gold.
    • by JimDabell ( 42870 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:39PM (#9609915) Homepage

      not quite everything nielsen says is right in every situation but everything the w3c suggests is a suggest worth the weight of my toshiba laptop (a hefty 7 pounds) in gold.

      Nobody is right all the time, not Mr Neilsen, not the W3C, not anybody. For instance, one of the "perfect" suggestions from the W3C that you refer us to:

      If using several choices in a font-family property (in order to let the system choose the best available font out of a list), you can use the font-size-adjust property to force a specific aspect value.

      Firstly, you cannot force anything with CSS. CSS provides suggestions, nothing more. But more importantly, no browser has ever implemented font-size-adjust! The W3C have even taken it out of CSS 2.1 because no browser vendor bothered with it. That statement will never be correct.

  • I dont believe this was in the article, but a TOC frame, and then a main page frame used to be an extremely popular design, like This [] [] But you dont really see it anymore. It would be interesting to know why this is not popular anymore. it technically saves time in loading because the only the framw which has changing content is loaded. Any ideas?
    • Re:Fras (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Violet Null ( 452694 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:06PM (#9609770)
      Basically, because it breaks how people navigate pages.

      1) You can't bookmark an individual page. In that scenario, you can only bookmark the page that holds the frameset.

      2) Similarly, you can't link to an individual page. If you do, they'll get that _just_ that page, no table of contents.

      3) If you hit the refresh button, it refreshes the frameset page, which puts you back at the "default" page, not the one you were looking at.

      4) Doesn't work with the "History" that browsers keep.
      • Not that I think we should go back to that time, but there are ways around the url problems. It was a major inconvienence though, and there are lots of better ways to spend your time.
      • Yeah, it's too bad explorer doesn't support the CSS declaration position:fixed, (though you can get the same effect using a hack []).

        I'd guess that 90% of the time when you see frames on a page, the designer just wants to put up a sidebar that stays in the same spot on screen while the page scrolls. I'm surprised explorer is up to version 6 and it's still so complictated to put up a fixed sidebar.

      • Come on, 1, 3, and 4 on your list are browser problems that have been fixed in all modern browsers. Number 2 can be easily fixed with just a tiny amount of ingenuity.
    • by SeinJunkie ( 751833 ) <> on Sunday July 04, 2004 @11:22PM (#9610362) Homepage
      The worst part about frames was that they quickly became a novelty item for everyone getting a page out there. This was mainly because it was the cheap and easy way to split up your navigation from your content. Because frames were so easy to use, they were often left alone and amateur site designers assumed that their existing non-framed pages could be left alone to work with their new framed layout. The result was framed pages often externally linking to more framed pages and ending up with non-relevant frames over or beside other frames. Nobody was properly breaking their sites frames when visiting a new frame (the proper element to use in an a href tag was target="_top"). In short: framed chaos.

      After years of many site authors putting links up on their pages labeled "Stuck in a frame? Break out of it" (which was just a target="_top" self link) and after many authorites just like Dr. Nielsen warning to not use frames [], the popular web pages finally stopped using them and moved on to other annoying practices like triple-columned portal sites and static table-based layouts. Once the popular web pages left frames beaten and crying in the corner, most of the amateur designers followed suit and also abused the table-based layouts.

      Now, it seems like we've been waiting an eternity for CSS to enjoy the huge popularity that table-based design has been basking in for way too long. Many sites have gone a long way to further that cause. Namely:
      ... to name just a few. Oh, and the time you save in loading the framed index page only once can't begin to compare to the time you save loading a single style sheet for layout rather than loading tons of table alignment data.
  • PDFs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bongo the Monkiii ( 793956 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @08:51PM (#9609704) Journal

    Well, the problem is that PDF documents are just not very suitable for online access because they are optimized for print, and they're big linear documents, and, therefore, they're not very good for search.

    Thank you! I've been saying this for YEARS!

    Web development should be about developing relevance and usability, not about putting every document you have on an HTTP server. PDF files are fine for e-mail, FTP, etc. where you pull them down and view them locally, but they just shouldn't be on the web. HTML was invented for a reason! Use it!

    • Re:PDFs (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FyreFiend ( 81607 )
      For the most part I agree with you. There are times when a "download this as a pdf" option would be nice though. The one example I ran into the other day was a netbook for the Rifts RPG. This guy had some great ideas spanning a bunch of pages. Saving each one to html, then removing the clutter (headers for the rest of his site, etc) was a pain.
      • Saving each one to html, then removing the clutter (headers for the rest of his site, etc) was a pain.

        You can hide stuff when it is printed out using print stylesheets. No need to resort to PDFs. Just use the media="print" attribute when linking to a stylesheet, and it will be applied when documents are printed out.

    • Re:PDFs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:33PM (#9609888) Homepage Journal
      I'm not sure if web designers necessarily understand PDFs.

      I think PDFs are essential for datasheets and manuals. For a datasheet which has hundreds of pages of text and images, having a reasonable expectation that it will look consistent no matter the display medium is important. HTML doesn't even seem to have a consistent page break, footnote or header mechanism for each page. Also, for fill-in forms, you get WYSIWYG text entry, which is especially nice for government forms.

      Searching in a PDF is easy enough, Google does it by default. Acrobat reader's Find utility finds it reasonably quickly enough.

      Which isn't to say that web sites should rely on PDFs.
    • The real problem with PDF's are the plugins have a load time, the navigation of a site is broken, there's a stupid Adobe starting logo (application pop-up), and the PDF has it's own interface on top of the browser's. But the load time for an entire document is the worst by far (there are speedups, but they're not default).

      If PDF plugins were more seemless (like Flash - not that I'm any huge fan of Flash), then I wouldn't avoid them so much.

      OT, I hate that magnifying glass that doesn't map zoom-in to left
    • The underlying problem with PDFs is control.

      HTML and PDF serve different purposes. One is designed (or at least, was originally designed) to describe the text, and leave the user's machine to decide how best to present it. In other words, the user has control over how they wish to view it -- what window size and shape, font size, colour, &c. You can view HTML across a massive 30" monitor, or on a PDA screen, and it should reformat as needed to be readable in each case.

      PDF, on the other hand, is d

  • (Score:2, Informative)

    by aslate ( 675607 )
    Although i use Windows, i have to say that is the worst [professional] website to navigate i have ever tried to use. The site structure sucks, the search sucks and the layout sucks. It is almost impossible to find what you want and there are loads of pages that link back to each other, getting you going round and round in circles. I can never find information i may need or certain applications or tools i want, it's just a mess.
  • The point of web design is not to make a clean, usable interface. The point is to exercise the web designer's skills, and incorporate all the latest technologies. Otherwise, how will the web designer feel? Designing clean, readable pages is hugely boring and totally unchallenging for an artist. Artists need to be on the cutting edge. HTML is such a limited's just not enough to allow the expression of the creativity that most web designers feel inside.
  • liquid? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spottedkangaroo ( 451692 ) * on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:28PM (#9609859) Homepage
    Neglect to use a liquid layout that lets users adjust the home page size.

    I'm not sure I've ever heard it called liquid, but I'd like to agree with this particular pet peeve.

    There's absolutely no excuse (ever) for forcing the user to view your web page at $arbitrary_page_width. Designers that think they need to force the width to a certian number -- for roundness, right hand menus, or whatever dumbass excuse -- are WRONG. Dead wrong. There is never a good reason to use a fixed width.

    It shows complete ignorance of the subject they claim to master by calling themselves site designers.

    • Re:liquid? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by trisweb ( 690296 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @11:10PM (#9610316) Journal
      "There is never a good reason to use a fixed width."

      Never is a strong word... the biggest argument I have against this is that my eyes hate to read a line of text which spans across my monitor. This is just my preference, but I have a feeling many people share this pet peeve -- if I find a site which is too wide for my eyes, I have to resize my browser window, which is not something a user should have to do to view a site.

      Most designs rely on fixed widths because the page can be controlled; otherwise the widths are unknown and all sorts of things start looking like crap -- images, for instance. Lets say you have a 400 pixel wide image, and your fluid page is *usually* big enough (on my monitor) so that whatever design element it sits in is large enough to contain it. Now let's say someone looks at it in 640x480 -- the image probably overflows the design.

      When you just have text data, and it looks like crap (Nielsen's site [] being the prime example), then yes, fluid designs are preferable. But when you start trying to make a site look good, be more usable, be more accessible, and work well while providing useful content in a very eye-pleasing form, then you need some measure of control of the look, and fixed designs can provide some of that. Now of course there are fixed pages which are absoulutely horrible -- just like any design, using fixed width requires thought, and some designers don't have that capability, and I'm sorry if you come accross one; but fixed widths can be useful in making a web site look better, which in my opinion improves the user experience as much as any of Nielsen's tips.

      • by Nurgled ( 63197 )

        I also don't like reading overly-wide text. However, rather than expect every site author in the world to cater to my tastes, I just wrote a user stylesheet.

        My user stylesheet allows me to click the document/user style toggle in Opera (I believe Mozilla/Firefox have similar functionality) and get the page under my terms, so long as the designer used sensible, semantic markup. In my case, I used max-width to stop the content getting too wide and set sensible font sizes, colors and so on.

        I'm reading Slashdo

      • by vena ( 318873 ) on Monday July 05, 2004 @12:28AM (#9610643)
        it's typography 101. wide columns make for bad readability. the mind loses track of its row and scanning back and forth for each line of text is straining on the eye. for instance, on slashdot, the text would have to be more than 200% its size in order for this simple rule of typography to be obeyed. there are several cases in which Nielsen's recommendations fly in the face of decades and sometimes (as in this case) centuries of applied experience have taught us.

        Nielsen, much to his chagrin, is not the voice of god, and he is often flatly wrong if not disrespectful. while it would be nice, as i believe is his goal, to allow the reader to resize their browser to the column width they are comfortable with, the prospect of asking a reader to change their browser window's width for every other page they visit is simply laughable in its utter disregard for the viewer's time and patience.

        perhaps if monitors were longer than they are wide, this wouldn't be as much of an issue, but then you run into usability on the desktop where a wider desktop is more conductive to productivity, lessens strain on the neck, and a host of other factors.

        mr Nielsen sees things too often in black and white and appears to form many of his opinions in a vaccuum, imho.
    • There is never a good reason to use a fixed width.

      Sometimes using fixed width columns is the only way to achieve correct layout. For instance, most browsers will happily word-break this line in the middle of the hyphenated compound adjective near the start of it, if you choose the correct display width. Doing so is, in fact, typographically incorrect (as it leaves no way of distinguish the fact that it is a compound adjective from a single word that has been broken over the line break). There is no sta
    • I don't think you can win here. I don't like to force my readers to use a narrow band down the middle of their screen (it often looks awful), but I certainly don't want to put them off by presenting them with lines so long that they're difficult to read.

      TeX uses wide margins for a reason, and, as usual, TeX is right. (One more reason why word processors suck - they give users 1 inch margins by default and the users don't change them, so A4/letter sheets have loooooong, tiring, hard to read lines. It's a ra
  • slashdot redisigned? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Divlje Jagode ( 710824 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:30PM (#9609869)
    Website a list apart [] did the exercise of redesigning slashdot using CSS. The article was called Retooling Slashdot with Web Standards []. A more detailed version is available here: Slashdot Web Standards Example [].

    This is the most interesting claim:

    Most Slashdot visitors would have the CSS file cached, so we could ballpark the daily savings at ~10 GB bandwidth. A high volume of bandwidth from an ISP could be anywhere from $1 - $5 cost per GB of transfer, but let's calculate it at $1 per GB for an entire year. For this example, the total savings for Slashdot would be: $3650! All of that for just a couple of KB.
    The article has even been discussed in slashcode []. Gathered from the discussion, there appears to be at least one engine [] (elixss) which uses CSS templates.
  • by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:30PM (#9609871) Homepage Journal
    for comming up with the "split long documents into seperate pages, because users don't understand how the scrollbar works, and would much rather wait a minute or two while their slow-ass modem loads up the next page" advice. Which ungodly numbers of people followed.

  • Is that [] he's [] not [] the [] least bit [] self conscious [] about his [] funny looks! []

    If *I* looked like that, I'm not sure I'd plaster my face all over the Internet!

    • He's not *that* funny looking.

      More "friendly" I think. Reminds me of my aunt who not incidentally is friendly.

      What is funny is that your post illustrates that given the pseudo-anonymous experience of the internet, we take someone's words at their face value (pun intended) without regard for the person's appearance (because we don't know it), whereas in Real Life human nature dictates that we judge the value of a person's words based on that person's appearance. The unfortunate downside is that comments m
  • overdesign (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sdedeo ( 683762 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:47PM (#9609954) Homepage Journal
    The greatest barrier to usability still seems to be site overdesign. Pages are far more complicated than they need to be (thankfully, much of the blog software is well designed in this regard, giving ample space to the actual content of each page.) Once you pack in a left and right column, and fill the rest of the space with ads, it takes a good deal of concentration to focus on the actual material you came for.

    Why are sites overdesigned? Why don't site designers trust the user more? (Overdesigned sites tend to crowd all of their content on to every page via hyperlinks, as if the user can't be trusted to figure out the "back" button.)

    To a point, it is about ego: a designer wants to brand every single page in a unique fashion, and that usually means marking up the content and squeezing it down. But there are plenty of ways a designer can satisfy her own ego, and present the content well, with minimalistic designs. The wikipedia is an excellent example of how a lot of features can be made unobtrusive and helpful, letting the content shine through.

    In the end, it is really more about company psychology. For the same reason that a bank wants to have a gigantic storefront to assure customers that their money is safe, a company wants its web pages to look expensive and permanent, and the quickest route ends up being a cluttered visual experience as the company shows off the various clever "features" it is rich enough to pay for. A "bare" page bereft of logos and menus and news from other pages seems like an admission of poverty.

    But this ends up making the user experience frenetic and disjointed. Oftentimes you can get around this problem by going to the "printer friendly" page where the article or information is presented in a traditional and human-readable fashion.
    • Re:overdesign (Score:3, Insightful)

      by globalar ( 669767 )
      Businesses that work primarily offline see the web as advertising - like an alternative to mailing a brochure maybe. That's probably what MBA's were all taught when they first heard about the Internet and what all the salespeople promised them later. And today a webdesigner will still sell a client on getting exposure (maybe through something like Google).

      Remember when everyone/company/pet/etc. had to be online just because? While that craze went on, advertising boomed and still lingers today. Google
  • Pet Peeves (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tojosan ( 641739 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:49PM (#9609962)
    He mentioned a couple of my favorite pet peeves including PDFs. But I've got a few others:
    1) Site inconsistency - having totally different designs between pages at the same site. This is often a navigation change, but could include color schemes, font choices, and text/graphic alignment.
    2) Links off the page you are on - often missing are links to the main site page, as well as links to pages within the section of the site you are currently visiting.
    3) Inconsistent content - one time a link is html, the next a text file, and the third a PDF. That is worse than every link being a PDF.
    4) Lack of a link to send the site maintainer an email.
    5) Lack of links to send anyone in the company an email. See this quite frequently.
    6) Overall lack of anything but marketting buzz on a website, not a usability issue per se but makes the site worthless.
    7) Inconsistent link behavoir - some links open a seperate browser, some don't.
    8) Failure to warn about popups! Personal opinion here, but a site should warn you to expect a popup and what your expected action should be if it is at all going to be unclear.
    9) Webforms for submitting a contact request that are just plain broken or don't point to a valid address.

    Also I've got to put in my vote for getting rid of long long long pages, experience has shown, most users won't scroll or as he said, won't retain if they do scroll.

    I'll second that motion on search being broken, heck, my company's internal and external websites are worthless in that respect.

    I've ranted enough, be well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:56PM (#9610014)
    I never look at PowerPoint slides on web sites. It suffers from all of the limitations that he points out regarding PDF, and is less portable.

    I prefer slides in HTML, for all of the reasons that he lists in his PDF rant. And if you need tighter control over format and appearance, then use PDF. At least it's portable.

    And for God's sake, provide a link, not a button, to all downloadable materials. I don't look at PDF documents in my browser, I use a separate viewer. The same goes for video clips. No demands for plugins, please. Not having a plugin is not the same as not having a viewer.

    Some material I want to see now. A browser works well for that, and can use, but should not require, Javascript and similar frills. If I can't navigate a site without Javascript, then I look elsewhere.

    Other material I want to save as reference material. Don't make me view it now. I'll save those PDFs for future reference. If it isn't reference material, then it shouldn't be in PDF format.

    The immediate use material shouldn't use plugins. Neither should the reference material. Plugins should only be required for material that you don't want anyone to see.
  • Powerpoint? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hungus ( 585181 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @09:59PM (#9610025) Journal
    I read the article backwards until I got to this blurb in B2B suggestions
    Downloadable slide shows, preferably in PowerPoint format.
    I am sorry but I cannot take any advice seriously that recommends PP for anything.
  • by Blackbird_Highway ( 756085 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @10:13PM (#9610089)
    My alltime favorite search problem was the company where a woman visited their website, typed in "confidential" and the search engine dutifully brought up every confidential document in the company! Now that's a really helpful search tool!
  • Give an active link to the home page on the home page.

    Oh, yeah that always pisses me off; when I can't go to the home page from the home page. Damn, that would definatly cost a company major bucks.
  • Very usable, perhaps, but it's ugly. It's easy to -talk- about how aesthetics are unimportant, but some of us have clients to please. Certainly I don't think websites should be made in Flash or giant image tables are a good idea, but realistically we need to strike a balance between what looks good and what works well. If it were up to him, design would be all function and no form.
    • I am curious. Why do you consider his website ugly?

      Plain, yes.

      Ugly, I just don't see it.

      Look, aesthetics are subjective. I think we have just proved this :) I am unsure where you get the idea that, according to Mr. Nielson, a website that functions well can't look good. If a website does not function well, it fails at its primary purpose. The only difference is that it might be a good looking piece of garbage rather than an ugly piece of garbage.

      I believe his fundamental point is that web sites that
  • Drop-Down Boxes (Score:3, Informative)

    by Baricom ( 763970 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @10:50PM (#9610234)

    I'm glad Nielsen brought up this problem, which has irritated me from time to time:

    people who want to enter "California" will end up with "Alabama" because the menu kind of first goes to C, but then it goes back to A.

    Obviously, he doesn't use Firefox. The ability to type multiple letters to skip through a list got added to some nightly and I was simply ecstatic, because it's much more usable from a keyboarder's standpoint.

    • There's a principle that I suspect Nielsen follows. Most sensible web designers do. Design for the most common case. The most common case, unfortunately, is not Firefox users, unless you're's designer.
  • Ad usability (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 04, 2004 @10:50PM (#9610235)
    Why are long flash animations so stupid? THey hardly ever show the company logo or product upfront and think you want to see the entire boring ad.

    I always close those down.

    Annoying me prior to letting me see the content isn't a good way to make me choose your product.

    Word to internet advertisers, if your advertisement takes up the whole window ..tell me the company name and product EARLY ON.
  • Select box peeve (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @11:00PM (#9610263) Homepage Journal
    He (and probably most people, unfortunately) doesn't know about a nice common browser feature. If you click on the drop down menu for a select box and start typing the option you want, it will actually select it. So there isn't really an advantage in a text box over a select box, since a select box acts like a text box except with tab complete and a list of options.

    Of course, it is a common flaw in web browsers that they don't make this functionality obvious.
    • Re:Select box peeve (Score:2, Informative)

      by brank ( 167549 )
      He addresses this, and says it doesn't work because typing a second letter selects something you don't want: ...people who want to enter "California" will end up with "Alabama" because the menu kind of first goes to C, but then it goes back to A.
      • Re:Select box peeve (Score:2, Interesting)

        by reverius ( 471142 )
        It only does that (a really annoying behavior, imho) in Internet Explorer, as far as I know.

        Mozilla, as well as any Netscape releases built on it, have multiple-letter typing selection. I would guess that most Mozilla derivatives do as well.

        They accomplish this by skipping to the next letter after you type a particular letter for the first one, and so on, but with a timeout of maybe a second or two.
  • by mister_tim ( 653773 ) on Sunday July 04, 2004 @11:04PM (#9610286)
    The Ask Slashdot from March 2000, linked to in the article summary, contained this comment from Neilsen in response to a question on Linus/Unix usability and 'prettiness' of interface:
    I know that Slashdot readers don't want to hear this, but the very first question is whether it is even possible to create a truly good user experience on top of Linux. Many other companies have tried to make Unix easy to use and many very talented designers have worked hard on these projects for several years without very good results.

    The only data points we have say that it can't be done.

    Well, Mac OS X has basically proved him wrong.
    • I have a hard time listening to the advice of any man who says something "can't be done".

      Especially in this case, when he's basically saying that it's impossible to make a good user experience on top of any operating system...

    • Well, yes, OS X did prove him wrong, in a year (Mac OS X wasn't released until March 24th, 2001). Of course the "prediction" was probably based in part on this statement you quoted:

      "The only data points we have say that it can't be done."

      That is a little bit different than saying it won't be done or even is impossible, only that the current data implies that it is not possible.

  • Some sites get it right or at least some close proximity to right. Then they fuck it up, badly. Old school hotmail for instance was a very clean and intuative site. Then ads were added, then "features", and now every link is a javascript link that fucks up my tabbed browsing experience. Combine that with I can't find a fucking thing, it is full of spam, and the junk folder delete function is all or nothing.

    Ok back on topic, if any webdevs are reading this, if it ain't broke then for the love of the swe
  • Good ideas.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dumpsterKEEPER ( 787464 ) on Monday July 05, 2004 @04:53AM (#9611657)
    I've read a few books from this same author and he does have some good points. I don't agree with everything personally, but reading carefully I found quite a bit of information about perspectives that I wouldn't have thought of.

    In my experience however, there is a crucial step that is missing. In most of the places where I have worked the "webmaster" is more the artsy type and is not interested in the technical side of the design at all. Where I'm working now, if I showed this article to our primary web designer, he would basically ignore it and continue doing things the same old way because he isn't interested in what he considers to be the technical aspects of web design (OT, once he even told me "I don't care about all that HTML stuff"). I'm sure this is different in large organizations where there are teams of people dedicated to the maintenance of the web site, but in smaller organizations where there are only one or two web designers it is important that the web designer understands *why* he must care about this information (and I'm not talking about nebulous mentions of "you'll save this much $"). Most of the designers I've worked with are not interested in perusing articles/books of what they consider to be "technical" information in an effort to improve the usability and effectivess of the web site they are maintaining.

    That is why this seems like only half the story. IMO, it would be very useful to have a good preface on why it is so important to apply these techniques, and only then begin to explain exactly what these techniques are and how to implement them. This would make this kind of information useful to both the artsy, visual web designer and the more code oriented, professional webmaster.

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