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Time to drive a stake through the heart of Nielsenism
on November 7, 2000
Jakob Nielsen's bizarre insistence on treating the Web as if the years 1996 through 2000 had never happened is the sort of lapse in his otherwise-cogent thinking that will doom him to irrelevance. He makes points that need to be made, but I worry about any sentence of the form, "*All* Web sites *must*..."
There's no way anyone can finish that sentence and have it ring true to me, since the Web is such a hugely multifaceted environment. It's not - and never has been, at least not since Mosaic 1.0 - a purely informational medium. Neither is it a purely commercial environment. It contains both these elements, along with a strong leaving of emotion and an increasing ability to display aesthetic sophistication.
With these thoughts in mind, it's purely irresponsible to *demand* that Web sites be designed solely according to the Taylorist precepts of Nielsen's so-called "practice of simplicity." Simplicity is a wonderful thing - even an underrated thing - but there are topics on the Web, as in life, that require complexity, even idiosyncrasy. The implied insult in "Designing Web Uability" is that users are dimwitted drones who can't be expected to deal with idiosyncrasy.
And while the review-of-a-review below may seem snarky, the guy's got a point. I don't want to sound elitist, but simplicity in practice demands subtlety - mastery of the sort that generally eludes "Dummies." This book will *not* make you a Web design professional, and if the below example is any proof, it cannot even teach you the basics of aesthetic balance. Nielsen himself admits as much.
Usability is a good thing. It is not a religion. Nielsen loses sight of this, which makes him dangerous; half-competent project managers who take up his cause without ever having designed a Web site themselves are more dangerous still.
I think it's time for the anti-Nielsen: a loud, proud statement that design is OK, that users are clever, that Flash can be useful, and that emotion is at least equal to commerce and utility in the life of the Web.