BookReview: Prioritizing Web Usability
by Jakob Nielsen, Hoa Loranger, New Riders Press, April 20, 2006, 978-0321350312

Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger make their money helping large companies create better UIs. I commend them. This book is a rehash of Nielsen's earlier work on usability. He admits this clearly in that he presents it as a retrospective. However, there's nothing new, really. They are great suggestions, but we need more, e.g., it would be great if he gave us advice how UI consultants can get people who work in large companies to heed their advice. We know what it takes to make a good UI, and there are plenty of examples on the Web, yet big and small companies seem to create awful UIs as a matter of policy. Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug at least takes a stab at this. It's sad that Nielsen doesn't share his vast experience in this area.

[p44] In the long term, keyword prices will tend to increase at about the same pace as Web site conversion rates. Since the conversion rate is a key measure of usability, bids for search engine advertising will continue to indicate the extent to which Web sites are improving their designs.

I find this a very strong statement for which the authors do not present data:

As Web sites improve, search engines will confiscate almost all the increased profits they gain from increased usability. In other words, search engines need do nothing but watch their incomes grow as mainstream Web sites do all the hard work of improving the Web. Is this fair? No. But the reality is that search engines drive much of the new traffic that a site can hope to attract.

[p150] The main guideline for Advanced Search is this: Avoid it. Very few people use Advanced Search correctly, and it almost always causes more trouble than it's worth.

[p211] Reserve direct lnks from the homepage for a small number of the most important user tasks. For any individual area of the homepage, you probably need to restrict the number of direct links to three or five. Three or fewer is most appropriate for multiple areas that each feature their own directly links.

[p233] When in Doubt, Use Verdana

Even with current technology, screen resolution is much lower than print resolution. Fonts that are ornate or detailed might look fine in print but don't rend clearly on the screen, resulting in jagged and degraded text formations.

[p394] Know your target users. They have expectations for your site based on their experiences with others. A unique site that is incongruous with what's familiar disrupts their workflow and causes confusion. It's more difficult to learn something new than to repeat the familiar, and people are not on your site to work extra hard to get answers. Any additional cognitive burden on them translates directly into lost business for you.

[p395] The only way you can know what users like is to listen to them. Make sure to test your system on real target users. Give them tasks to do, observe their behavior, and listen to their feedback. Don't be afraid to modity your design and test again. No one can create the perfect usable design, especially on the first try. User testing is the simplest of all the usability engineering methods, so fast and inexpensive that there is no excuse for launching a site without testing it.

Via Rob 8/25/2007
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