on October 31, 2002
This book shows why Jakob Nielsen is so highly respected in the field of usability. The first part of the book contains the principles and concepts used for properly designing Websites. They are very detailed and very complete. The second part of the book contains critiques of 50 different homepages. Most of the homepages are from medium to large companies (FedEx, Accenture, ...), but there are also a few from local companies. Nielsen sticks with the homepages because it's the most important page on most sites, and the homepage tends to reflect the structure of the rest of the site. Nielsen points out the good and bad aspects of the homepages. He also does it in a very clearly designed graphic presentation. He numbers the areas of the homepage he wishes to comment on, then follows the graphic homepages with pages of comments clearly cross-referenced to the numbers. A very easy to follow format that I will use in my own presentations from now on. Easily done using layers in Paint Shop Pro. This section of the book shows how few companies actually follow good usability practices. In fact, some of the companies that supposedly help other companies develop a Web presence actually have atrocious usability practices on their own sites (the Accenture site is particularly hideous and poorly structured, although they have improved it slightly since the book's release). The mistakes are common among designers, so Nielsen tends to be a little repetitive. Not really something he can avoid since the common mistakes are made by the page designers and they must be pointed out. We all know how bad Web design currently is because we're continually looking for things or confused by the structure or navigation of newly visited Websites. Using Nielsen's examples, any designer should be able to greatly improve their design practices. At least they'll be better than the designers at most of these 50 companies.
Along with Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think and Alan Cooper's The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, this book stands at the top of the heap of usability books. And it's a better tool, especially for quick reference, than Nielsen's last book, Designing Web Usability.
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.
on August 19, 2002
Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir, breaks new ground in the art and science of critiquing Website design. This full-color book features assessments of 50 popular corporate Website home pages and provides significant insight for developing sharp eyes and minds for objectively evaluating Website design efforts. Website home pages featured in the book includes Amazon, Boeing, FedEx, Gateway, General Motors, IBM, Microsoft, Ticket Master, USA Today, and Wal-Mart.
As the authors point out in the book, and rightfully so, company home pages - and those of others - must advance and protect their public image. Any inconsistencies and weaknesses can have a negative impact on the way companies and other people are perceived by the public. Trust and reputation are important commodities to convey. And it starts with the home page.
The book offers readers many important Website design learning experiences. They will learn to develop keen awareness for communicating Website purpose through the effective use of Web page space, by using particular features when most appropriate, understanding and applying general layout design principles, developing clear and precise written content, designing and effectively placing graphics, and incorporating purposeful navigation and linking. Readers will also pick up on the marketing and promotion strategies that are heavily dependent upon these and other important design considerations.
The authors survey the use of specific Website design features, they set forth certain criteria for effective Website design, and offer readers valuable constructive criticism throughout the book that will encourage them to enhance their own Website design efforts. Although some comments in the book appear to be picky, they do make good sense. We should always be assessing our own Website design strategies and sometimes the best way to learn is by objectively analyzing the work of others.
We owe it ourselves and to others to be aware of the world around us and to design Websites that are totally relevant and effective in conveying their intended messages. This book will contribute to our understanding of human nature and public response to the Web as a leading communications medium. It will also generate additional interest and enthusiasm for designing Websites. There are many exciting lessons to learn from it. The instruction is clear, the color graphics are great, and the layout is spacious, making it an excellent workshop and classroom course book.
on April 3, 2002
In spite of the attractive cover and being publiehsed by New Riders, this book is a great disappointment. My advice for any current webdesigner is to look elsewhere for ideas. The first 33 pages of this book contain advice that seems more appropriate for a text book on writing, such as using standard capitalization, spelling out the name of a month and using standard abbreviations.
The next section of the book describes statistics collected by the authors. Here, the statistics are presented in a way that strongly encourages primarily cookie-cutter websites. For example, the authors found that 84% of the websites they looked at had the company logo in the upper-left corner of the homepage. And follow this finding with "We recommend that your site include a logo on the homepage placed in the upper-left corner." As another example it criticizes sites (and even excludes them from their analysis) that do not offer a search feature. With statements such as "Unbelieveably, 14% of the homepages didn't have a search feature." seems to make no allowance for small sites where a search feature would be unnecessary and even foolish.
The final section of the book provides full-color screen shots of popular website homepages and an analysis of those pages by the authors. Here, the authors "critique" pages with frequent trivial comments that seem more appropriate to a scolding teacher or parent with comments like "There should be..." or "This is odd..." or "It's never good.."
I really enjoy good web design books and frequently recommend them to other designers and even clients. But I could not recommend this book even to a novice.
on February 12, 2002
Web site usability has come a long way. For proof, just consider the strange case of Dr Jakob Nielsen.
Back in 1995, Dr Nielsen was a Sun Microsystem Usability software usability expert with a string of published papers and books on topics such as "heuristic evaluation". Nielsen had spent a chunk of his career analysing the benefits of quick-and-dirty usability methods such as heuristic evaluation, where a group of experts rate a system's compliance with established usability norms. But such methods remained generally underappreciated, and Dr Nielsen's books and papers were read by a relatively small group of fellow specialists. In 1995, with Web sites becoming a popular new type of "software", Dr Nielsen started publishing his thoughts at his own Web site, useit.com.
Now move forward seven years, and here is Dr Nielsen again, peering out of the front of a book through neat glasses, wearing a red tie and perfectly mismatched greenish-blue shirt, with hair just long enough to mark him as a child of the 1960s. Except now Dr Nielsen is famous and runs sell-out executive lecture sessions on Web site usability. And the book out of which he is peering is not a scholarly tome but a big, glossy, full-colour 320-page compendium of heuristic evaluations on some of the world's best-known Web sites. It's called "Homepage Usability".
Yes, it's the world's first coffee-table usability book.
And if you can get over the price, "Homepage Usability" is both a useful contribution to the discipline, and more fun than you'd think. It's a set of design rules centred around an examination of the home pages for 50 major sites, including the highly-valued (Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google), the worthy (PBS, Art Institute of Chicago) and the famous (CNN, Google, BBC Online).
"Homepage Usability" is particularly useful because Nielsen and collaborator Marie Tahir use these 50 sites not just as a gimmick but also to help define the "standard" treatments of elements on a Web page. They do so in the belief that rather than learning a new interface on every site, users prefer your site to work the same way as the last dozen they were on.
On top of the 15 pages of statistical analysis, Neilsen and Tahir also offer 25 pages of heuristics - rules - on eveything from displaying logos to communicating site problems. Many of these rules will be familiar to Web design veterans and to readers of Nielsen's last book, "Designing Web Usability".
Once the rules are finished with, Nielsen and Tahir take you into the instructive and oddly entertaining 240-page dissection of those 50 sites. They seek out and pull apart every misplaced button and vague label. The label "MTV news gallery" obscures the richness of the MTV site's feature articles. Drugstore.com probably thought the term "shopping bag" appropriate, but "shopping cart" has become an accepted term. And ExxonMobil might have thought their front page oil rig photo looked arty, but "oil companies would best avoid photos that show large shadows in the water next to their rigs". Heh, heh.
The home pages themselves are displayed at full-page size. Some of the comments verge on pedantry, but there's praise too - the informative headlines on CNN, the well-described sign-in at Amazon. And the sheer weight of commentary eventually starts pushing you to think more rigorously about how users see your own pages.
Many Web designers, especially the less pragmatic and those without formal training, hate Nielsen's approach. They can see it leaching the originality out of Web design. Neilsen makes no apologies for this; he believes the content should outshine the look, and he once wrote an essay entitled "The End Of Web Design".
Commercial operators may see a different reason for suspicion. The likes of Amazon and Yahoo have been around long enough, and have experimented enough, to know exactly what produces commercial results for them. Heuristic evaluations never ask what is working in a particular case; they just apply standards. As Graham Hamer notes in his review below: if Amazon wants to label a link "Friends and Favorites", it's probably because the link is known to provoke the desired book-buyer behaviour - regardless of what Jakob Nielsen thinks. Heuristic evaluation has its limits.
Within those limits, heuristics have real power. Usability commentators like Steve Krug, author of the excellent "Don't Make Me Think", argue that the average user is a myth and all Web use is essentially idiosyncratic, so the only way to design is to test. But the truth is that almost every designer uses heuristics at some point, adopting elements because they are familiar and because there isn't the time or the budget to test. They're too useful to resist. So is this book.
on February 5, 2002
In my research of writing my You Are Here Internet Guides, I have personally visited and toured well over 15,000 Web sites and I must say I find this book very impressive. A flawless job of deconstructing these 50 sites makes you want to look more introspectively at what visually stimulates viewers. It explains in detail what insightfully makes Web design sufficient and efficient for the viewer. The commentary is very easily spoken and will make you think twice about some characteristics of Web design. Things you may have normally taken for granted in Web design are pointed out. For instance, intricacies such as arrows pointing at words and how to keep it simple with text links make the user well informed. Or how some redundancies keep the user from reading more, and in turn decrease the impact of the intended marketing message shows that somes sites may be susceptible to overusability. The book takes the word "clutter" and defines it, and explains ways around it. The simplicity concept is explored deeply, explaining a site can be easy to use without sacrificing good content.
I like how each site deconstructed has a pie chart that tells you can quickly and easily look at and see what the homepage allocates space for.
Much thought put into critiquing the sites. I found the homepage design statistics in the beginning to be quite useful and accurate.
Overall, the book is a masterpiece. There is a chock full of thought into each homepage.
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.
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.
on December 26, 2001
Superlatives fail me when describing the value of this book. It is no exaggeration to say that it is worth millions of dollars in the increased efficiency of web sites. Which may even be true if the recommendations are made to only the fifty sites examined in the book. The authors critique some of the biggest sites, such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Wal-Mart and eBay and a significant number of the errors are surprising in their obviousness. For example, many of the pages have titles that will be alphabetically indexed under words such as "The" or "Where." Others place the word "Online" in the title, which is of course the only way the page will be seen. Nielson is an outspoken opponent of any descent into cutesy images or dialog and he makes his points very effectively.
I examined the first few pages very carefully before going on to the comments, trying to determine what difficulties the pages may present. Some were found, but most passed me by. However, after reading the author comments, I went back and looked at them again. When I did that, it was clear what the problem was. My examination was done from the perspective of someone who was experienced in web design and who was not actually using the site to do anything critical. Which is no doubt the reason for the problems and why the authors should be listened to. Nielson and Tahir have that incredibly rare ability to think like a novice while possessing the knowledge of an expert.
Some designers may read their comments and consider them picky. Which is true, but only from the designers perspective. Looked at from the viewpoint of a user who wants something right now, they are a frustrating annoyance that is unnecessary. One that I find particularly aggravating is the size of search boxes. For some reason, the designers seem to think 15 characters is enough. Adding a few more characters to the size of the search box does not burn that much additional space and allows the user to see most of their entry.
Few of the recommendations in the book would require a major redesign of the site. I took one site and went through a simulated alteration of the code so that it conformed to the recommendations by the authors and was able to complete nearly all of the changes in less than four hours. In contrasting the modified site to the original, there was no doubt in my mind that the altered site was a significant improvement.
This book should be mandatory reading for anyone with a license to make a web page. It explains in simple detail what makes web pages work and simple problems that make them a pain in the personals to use.
on December 22, 2001
This book serves as a follow-up by the world's guru on Web Usability, Jakob Nielsen, two years after the release of his successful "Designing Web Usability." This time around, he picked up where he left and expanded on his previous work on Usability, by selecting the Internet's 50 most important properties, and deconstructing their Home Pages: Amazon, [other websites], you name it! They're all there, and he's very critical -sometimes a little too much, in my opinion, since (as we all know) in the world of design, compromise is one of the unavoidable evils. Check out the book, though. You will find a wealth of very useful ideas and criticism you can directly apply to your Home Page.
To me, a Web Project Manager, this book came in VERY handy, allowing me to convey some basic Web design concepts accross the board in my company. At this point, we have applied several of Nielsen's ideas to our two web sites with extreme success, while educating managers in areas outside of IT about why certain ideas for a web site won't work, while others have gotten to the point of becoming web design standards. Get it: it will become your biggest ally.