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Homepage Useability: 50 Websites Deconstructed – by Jacob Nielsen

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bookofjoe‘s Nielsen rating is over 90%.

Jakob Nielsen’s rating, that is, from his book. I bought this book after reading strong recommendations for it in several places. Also, I know Nielsen is considered the “uber-guru” of website design.

I love the author’s hubris re: the value of his book. In the introduction, he points out that his web consulting firm, Nielsen Norman Group, charges a minimum of $10,000 for a useability review of a homepage.

Therefore, “Because this book contains 50 reviews, we’ve been joking that its value is $500,000 for the readers. Makes the cover price [$39.95] seem cheap, wouldn’t you say?”

I agree completely. Well worth the money (only $27.99 at amazon).

It’s so much fun just to read the deconstruction of the 50 websites – the good, the bad, and the ugly – that this book offers.

So many things I find stupid, distasteful, or bizarre on the sites of so many major companies, especially those in the information or computer industries who certainly should know better, are here skewered most delightfully. But I digress.

Nielsen offers 113 specific guidelines. You get 1 point for each one you meet, one-half point for partial compliance, and 0 for complete failure. You don’t score guidelines that don’t apply.

For example, I don’t score the guidelines re: advertising since I don’t have any – yet. I don’t have animation or flash, so the guidelines re: these things don’t apply.

Also, the book is directed at business and ecommerce: all 50 sites reviewed are of this type.

Nevertheless, bloggers can benefit immensely from the book, since many aspects of a blog – title, site nature and purpose, window title, links, URL, archives, search, navigation, layout and design, advertising, credits, technical problems and emergencies, dates and times, etc., apply to blogs.

Here’s how the scoring of the guidelines test works:

Above 80%: “Consider youself in good shape, though you might want to make a few minor fixes to areas where you have violated guidelines.”

Between 50% and 80%: “start a redesign project to produce a new homepage. Your current homepage is definitely not a disaster, but it is bad enough that isolated modifications to individual areas will not suffice.”

Below 50%: “Abandon your current site and start over from scratch.”
*********************************************

“The perfect website will probably follow about 90-95% of the useability guidelines and do something different, but appropriate, in the remaining cases.”

Dare I say that bookofjoe is perfect according to this extraordinarily strict taskmaster, known for being extremely rigid, perfectionistic, and demanding?

PW, my site engineer and partner, take a big, big, bow, ’cause bookofjoe’s standing up here screaming your name and whistling and clapping. U R DA BOM.

Re: where bookofjoe might improve according to the Nielsen criteria:

1) I don’t have a tag line currently. Suitable ones might be

USA Today – XXX Rated

or

Food, Fucking, Folks, Fashion, Fun

or

Information Sickness: here’s where you get well

My site engineer, PW, and I were chatting on the phone last night (we talk every couple months, the rest of our communications being via email), and I mentioned to him that it might be fun to take the USA Today logo and put 3 red Xs across it, then put it up under “bookofjoe” in the upper left hand corner of my homepage and see how long it took ’till a cease-and-desist letter arrived from USA Today.

The publicity I’d get if this made the news might just be the tipping point to put me on the internet map big-time. Don’t be surprised if you see it something like this up there one day. You know how much I love to cause trouble.

2) Nielsen says the search function should be at the very top of the homepage: you’ll note mine is down a ways. PW and I will discuss this.

3) Link colors should show visited and unvisited sites. Neilsen recommends blue for unvisited links, and a clearly discernible and less saturated color for visited links. This I don’t do, and should.

4) The search box should have space for at least 25 characters, preferably 30 – mine allows only 10.

5) The url should be bookofjoe.com. PW and I know this, and have been working to drop the typepad from the current URL – bookofjoe.typepad.com – for over a month, without success. The reasons are boring, but have to do with the unbelievably fucked-up nature of the internet when it comes to clerical and technical, behind-the-scenes stuff like this. It will happen.

6) Dates and times. Nielsen says that if you have international visitors – and you number about 25% of my readers at present, with the percentage rising to over 50% between midnight and 8 am my (U.S. Eastern Standard) time – it’s imperative to put the time zone in after any post’s time, along with GMT.

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  • http://www.gautampatel.com/ Gautam Patel

    Great blog!

    I read this book by Nielsen, and his “Designing Web Usability” a while ago and both have been very influential. Not just in terms of web design — I don’t do much of that — but regarding design and publishing style generally. Nielsen is sound and sensible for the most part.

    Unfortunately, and this comes through very strongly in “Designing Web Usability”, he is also extremely conceited and has very, very fixed ideas. His notions of hyperlinking, for example, on which he is utterly rigid. Hyperlinks must be solidly underlined, and in blue, always. The search button must be near the top — sort of like a car’s steering wheel: the horn must be in the center, that’s where God wanted it to be, not on a lever to the side as Ford once attempted. But what would Nielsen say about stereo controls on the steering wheel? Good? Bad? Usable?

    Nielsen is worth reading if only to understand fundamental rules of web design. Today, with so many web authoring programs so easily available, everyone is a designer and yet very few understand design, or the limitations and advantages of the medium (in contrast to print especially). Too many designers throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into their designs. Nielsen correctly points out that much of this is rubbish and only alienates the viewer. His comments on how people read on the Internet (they don’t read, they scan) are revelations. As other authors explain, in reading print, the eye moves across the page, left to right and then down, line by line, till the page is turned. On the Internet, the eye is relatively static and the page scrolls, up and down. This is not how humans read at all and that is why so many of us who use computers extensively still work better on paper. I am a practicing lawyer, and, despite all my work on a computer, I still find it easier to work on paper.

    Having said all that, however, I must say that, at some point, I began to feel that much of what Nielsen says can safely be ignored and, sometimes, he is plain wrong. Take the two examples above. I don’t any longer believe that links must be in blue and underlined. Increasingly, Internet users are able to easily distinguish links and follow them even when they are not so identified. In a trade-off between design and usability, with a given design you can break the Nielsen rule on linking without any sacrifice of usability.

    Similarly, the search button. Why should it be at the top? Where it should be placed depends on the nature of the site. I went off to bookofjoe, and, frankly, my only comment is that perhaps the “syndicate this site (XML)” link could be dropped lower down the page; but the rest can be left as it is. It’s completely logical: on that page, one wants to know who you are; to get a quick link to send you an email (you’re sure you want this?); to see your archives; and, since this is a blog, not a formal research site, the search button is, in the natural progression of things, rightly placed below the archives. Please stick with the design: it’s clean, it’s simple, it’s eminently readable and it’s very, very usable. Forget Nielsen.

    Nielsen is very much ‘old guard’ when it comes to these matters. He tends to see his ‘rules’ of web usability as punctuation. Breaking them, he seems to claim, leads to a drop in usability. This is quite evidently incorrect. The Internet is constantly evolving. Users are increasingly adept, comfortable and proficient. They don’t need the hand-holding Nielsen advises. See the redesigned Hotmail inbox, or Yahoo’s mail interface, for example. Many of Nielsen’s rules aren’t followed at all and yet there’s no real drop in usability.

    I still do what I call a basic-Nielsen test on my own designs, though. The test is really simple. Forget you’re the designer. You’re an outsider. You come in. Can you quickly identify (1) what the site’s about; (2) what you’re likely to find; (3) dig deeper if you need to; (4) hit the right links on the page accurately?

    On this test, I have one major misgiving about http://www.gautampatel.com/, a site where I’ve dumped lots and lots of Nielsen’s edicts and, on his analysis, would proably score zero — it’s not easy to distinguish between the link to Amazon and the link to the full post. I need to sort that out. On the other hand, http://www.mcavity.com seems to be okay, and working well, and the one I did for the Bombay Bar Association, http://www.bombaybar.com, has lots of users who are quite comfortable with it.