Jakob Nielsen - The Guru of Web Page Usability
- a book review of "Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity"

This book will undoubtedly make anyone closer to a “HOME RUN” as defined by Jakob Nielsen. It will urge caution whenever a designer is approaching some of the design flaws that are possible, and it will probably be able to help inspire a number of people to make more usable websites that meet the requirements for both people with disabilities and with languages other than English.

On the other hand, the book does little to assess the strength of usability balanced against content. This lack of assessment could fundamentally undermine the entire relevance of the book’s subject.

In my opinion the book is of course relevant and of high importance; I would argue that it is not only relevant reading for anyone designing websites, it is relevant for anyone designing software in any aspect, as many of the problems with usability transfer across web and operating systems. I would argue that any user of a computer is a person seeking a goal of interaction, much as Jakob Nielsen describes the web user.

In recognizing the book as a valuable asset in the design process of the technologies used today, I can also reflect on my criticism of the lack of sources for documentation of both existing empirical findings and future trends. Most designers would, in my opinion, benefit from reading the book at face value; and more value can be derived from combining the book with Jakob Nielsen’s website with updates, newsletters and alerts. This combination will help the book survive much longer than other literature about such an evolving technology.

However, if this book is to be used as an offset for further research, it is somewhat harder to ensure the academic credibility. I must acknowledge that a lot of the documentation that the book lacks can be found on Jakob Nielsen’s website, and I realize that some of the deeper analytical data are most likely the property of Jakob Nielsen’s company Norman Nielsen Group, thus can be obtained at a fee. However, it should also prompt a researcher to seek other sources for confirmation, as the credibility of sources with economical interests at stake might need additional verification since the information is not in the public domain.

The fact that the book is highly relevant in many aspects of digital design makes it so much more inspiring reading, but it also makes one feel stronger about the lack of assessment of boundaries as described earlier. If the interface with content and relevance for that matter is more defined, it would most likely give the book even more value as it would have a defined space in the whole. Based on my findings in this review so far, I have decided to conduct research into the field around web usability in an attempt to establish these boundaries. Hopefully a success in this field will uncover new knowledge on the subjects around usability and additionally help justify more efforts into conducting usability investments, when designing websites and usability research in general.

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Updated 2002-07-26

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