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3.8 out of 5 stars
Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed
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Showing 1-10 of 14 reviews(3 star)show all reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2002
As a software designer, I keep pretty close tabs on the current thinking about usability. And while Nielsen's periodic AlertBox column is excellent, this book seemed more like something you simply flip through rather than use as a solid desk reference on Web site and homepage design.
Several times as I read through the book, I thought to myself that he really sold himself short. Lists are so long as to be utterly unusable, and the "mistakes" he highlights are too repetitive, and often ambiguous. This is hardly the kind of empirical-evidence-based advice I was hoping for; in the end, it seemed like he just jotted down notes as he went along and found someone to publish it. And while the look and feel of the book itself is excellent, the content is poorly thought out. Maybe he just needs a better editor (after all, I found many typos, something that's hard to stomach when he is so critical of similar mistakes). Finally, some of the advice he offers merely serves to demonstrate his lack of business experience and basic branding and marketing, which is both ironic and embarrassing.
I'll admit that his task isn't an easy one, as he faces a central dilemma: he either must point out every little problem, or risk coming under fire for missing something. Unfortunately, I think he erred on the side of "too much trivia" at the expense of his readers. The book was fun to look through, and it gave me several important insights into homepage design, but I can' t imagine that I will ever refer to it. If you want excellent insight into web page and homepage usability, I would stick with the Alertbox.
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on August 19, 2003
Tightly focused on homepage usability, hence the title. 113 usability success elements are presented, and 50 popular websites are evaluated based on the success elements. After about 5 reviews, they become quite redundant, and many are nitpicky. Most web sites reviewed made the same common mistakes, which are harped on throughout the book. I stopped reading them after about 15, and then just skimmed the most popular ones thereafter.
Repeated at least 20 times are these themes:
* Title your pages appropriately
* Get a good tagline
* Provide example content on the homepage, not just links
* Write headlines as succinctly as possible, while retaining greatest possible meaning
* Have a search box available
* Categorize links and sections appropriately
* Use good labels
* Use images wisely, and not gratuitously
* Beware of ads, and anything looking like them
Readers of "Designing Web Usability" won't find nearly as much substance in this book, but Nielsen fans won't be disappointed. He certainly is consistent!
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on October 6, 2002
This book basically lays out the fundamentals of home page usability and then points out things that are right or wrong with some 50 popular websites.
Although the content of the book is ok, it is highly ironic that the book itself violates the very principles it is trying to preach.
First of all, the book is very HEAVY because it has color pages which are printed on heavy bond paper. It is also unwieldy because the pages are LARGE (Since the authors print out those website homepages at almost 100% of their actual size). It is simply to cumbersome to read on the train, or laying on a bed. One has to read it with the book rested on a table because it is so hard to manage (It won't even stand by itself because it is soft covered.)
Second of all, some pages are completely wasted, which is again highly ironical since the authors talk about spaces WASTED on webpages...) For example on pages 5-6 entitled "Homepage Guidlines," page 5 is black with no content, and there's content on only half of page of page 6. In the "website decontruction pages" section, webpages that are being analyzed are printed in the same size twice, one with red numbered circles(to be pointed out in the opposite page), one without. The authors could have just printed the pages with the red cicles on it (or have the original in a smaller size) and still achieve the same effect.
The red border to the side of the book is completely useless (other than for visual effect). While its purpose is to indicate which webpage it is analyzing, it could have been done without this SIZABLE red border . They could also have used this sizeable border to color-code the various sections of the book. As it is, it is space wasted that adds to the already massive size of the book.
Without the wasted page real estate, the book would have been tremendously lighter, more portable, and would have allowed the reader to enjoy reading it more. I understand that it is suppose to be a book relating to webpage design (hence the fancy layout), but it is an "usability" book, not a "fancy design 101" book. While the information given is good, I could have brought another book that offers same amount of content, but with less hassle (and probably with less amount of money given the fact that bond paper is expensive.)
If Jacob Nielsen were to deconstruct his own book, he would fail to meet his own standard of usability.
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on January 28, 2002
The first 50 or so pages provide a good summary of the authors' advice on making web sites usable, and back some of it up with statistics. This is valuable information.
The remainder of the book is comprised of the home page reviews. On page 55 the authors state, "Some of our comments may seem picky; we have tried to comment on everything big and small. In terms of sheer volume, the smaller usability items dominate the reviews. Most of these minor problems will not prevent a determined user from using the site, so they are not true usability catastrophes like the ones we often find when we study people trying to complete an entire task on the web." This pretty much tells you what you will see in the remainder of the book.
Unfortunately, the reviews do not make it clear whether the authors consider each home page a usable home page or not. Positive comments and problems are both noted in the home page reviews, but not visually differentiated from each other. In addition, there is usually no indication as to whether a given comment represents a "minor problem" or a "usability catastrophe". Nor is there any indication as to which review findings are supported by research; many seem to be based purely on the personal opinions and preferences of the authors. I disagreed with many of these statements based not only on my own browsing experience, but also on my experience providing user support. These factors limited the usefulness of the reviews for me.
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on January 8, 2002
I was impressed by the first 65 pages of 'Jakob Nielsen's 50 Web Sites'. For the first time, it seemed, someone had stopped to analyse the genetic code that made for a successful homepage.
What happened on page 66? .......... What happened was that I came to the deconstruction (criticism) of THIS site (amazon.com) and discovered that things were not as they seemed. Having purchased regularly from three of the amazon sites over the last five years, and having written over 200 reviews on this site alone, I think I know the site as well as any other customer. Thus I was surprised when I saw some of the criticisms levelled by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir. I'm not saying that everything is perfect - and fair criticism is wholly constructive - however, the authors have left themselves open to the charge of superficiality.
Take as an example their criticism of the page tabs (they say that users can make use of the other navigation tools on the page). Personally, I ALWAYS use the tabs at the top of the page. It seems that Nielsen and Tahir haven't considered user preferences.
They say that 'Friends and Favorites' is a meaningless category name. Not to me, it's not. Nor to hundreds of thousands of other site users.
They say that 'Free e-cards' should be in the 'Gifts' category. WRONG - Gift Certificates are in the gift category. e-Cards are e-Cards. Gift Certificates are Gift Certificates.
They say that 'Hello' is an unnecessary level of friendliness. Is it? I LIKE being welcomed to the site (even though I know it's only an electronic gizmo). What Nielsen and Tahir failed to understand was that, after signing-in, the message says 'Hello, Graham Hamer' (or Hello, Father Christmas if that's who you are). As I say, the authors have been too superficial in drawing their conclusions.
They say that Photo albums and Photo frames is an odd and seemingly random combination of items. Eh? Doesn't the word 'photo' conjure up a link?
They say that 'Kitchen' should be grouped with 'Lawn and Patio'. Why? I don't grow flowers in my oven.
In Nielsen and Tahir's specific examples, they criticise 'A Painted House' as being a poor description of John Grisham's 'A Painted House'. ... What planet are these people from?
They criticize the fact that there is more than one place on the page to sign in. I LIKE that feature since both my wife and I have accounts with Amazon, I often find that I am 'signed in' on her account. Having a convenient location to click is a useful addition.
Nielsen and Tahir have completely misunderstood the meaning of the heading 'New Releases'. If they had bothered to click on any of the categories below, they would have understood its function. (Superficiality again.)
I could rant on and on for pages, but I think you're probably getting the gist of things. Having discovered that the authors had made such a poor job of deconstructing a site I know well, I now don't trust their judgement on the remaining 49 sites. That's a shame, because the idea behind the book is good - just poorly executed.
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on December 19, 2001
A decent overview of the corporate homepage as first impression, with its own conventions and caveats.
Drawbacks: Each page -- all 50 of 'em -- is critiqued in unprioritized detail, the book's worst oversight. Most developers have mission-critical tasks, and some of JN's pronouncements are nothing but opinion, not proofs backed up by research. Minor proofing errors just aren't on the same level as critical path architectures, and the book doesn't differentiate this for readers.
Sheer volume does work in one area, however: the most interesting part of the book is the appendix, which offers side-by-side comparisons of all 50 sites that zoom in on particular aspects of design: page titles and taglines, screen real estate breakdowns, search features, and more. These comparisons reveal the homepage as a landscape with its own map, for good or ill.
The best reason for a web professional to read this book is that most decisionmakers for corporate websites will read this and declare expertise. It's good to be armed -- and love him or hate him, JN is quoted often enough that he can't be ignored. So read it, but make sure to pursue alternate points of view.
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on December 3, 2001
Nielsen is an important figure in web design, true, but that doesn't mean that everyt utterance deserves 5 stars. This is a reasonably interesting read, but hardly seems worth the praise here.
Yes, this is an application of Nielsen's ideas, which is great. You get to see how his design guidlines can apply to lots of sites, without really resulting in the kind of bland, lowest-common-denominator website that many designers fear Nielsen demands.
But, the approach here is just a fire hose of heuristics sprayed all over the place. Does an "uncompromising autopsy" (Amazon's words) really sound like an instructive, constructive read? It's really impossible to get a sense of priority here: is this a show-stopper usability problem or is it a minor thing? I'd rather see the kind of thing usability professionals actually write: an attack plan for fixing real problems, with an eye to what matters and what's a nice-to-have.
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on December 11, 2001
- Recommended for inspiration
- Don't simply copy. Use them as strategic guides
But not every rule applies to every homepage. JN is putting up rules which shall apply for all websites. But they don't. They can not be applied the same way in America, Europe and Asia. It's a mistake to take this book as a bible. People who can not think independently need external rules. Thats what this book provides. Its inspirational and pin points areas you might not have thought about. For that its worth the money. But it can not do the job for you.
As uability engineers we have to reflect local requirements. A book on actually how to develop unique rules in any local situation would have been of much greater value.
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on January 2, 2002
I have just browsed the book, and got tired after five minutes. Page after page is filled with details about the 50 web designs, but when not prioritized, it's quite hard to follow. I really learned a lot from "Designing web usability" because it gave me a theoretical base on how to think about usability design, but this is just like a very long check list.
I belive the book is quite useful if you have the time and energy to browse it, but it could have been made more easy to read. Like when pointing out design mistakes (50 websites x 25 mistakes = 1250), why not give some kind of priority? For example green-yellow-red or 1-5?
I will probably read all of it, but not today..
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on December 3, 2001
I picked this book up and laughed my way through it. Some of the advice is valid and you can certainly learn a couple of things to avoid, but really I thought some of the points exceeded even the (...) realm of ridiculousness. There is just no possible way to make your site perfect for every glob of living organism on the planet. Granted some sites that were reviewed I confirmed my dislike of them after Mr. JN pointed out the things I probably never would have cared to actually think about. Anyhow for a guy who (...) usability his own book has some errors, and layout problems, whats up with that? Good for some, bad for others hence the 3 stars, but my actual rating is 2.5 stars.
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