Nico Macdonald | Spy   Communication, facilitation, research and consultancy around design and technology

Jakob’s Ladder
New Media Creative, March 2001, pp38-43. (Article as drafted.)
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen is renowned for his dislike of graphics and design gimmicks, but as the Internet continues to evolve will his current critique methods become more a hindrance than a help?


New Media Creative cover March 2001

The person described by the Financial Times as “perhaps the best-known design and usability guru on the Internet”[1] is a rather surprising candidate. He isn’t a twenty-something founder of a successful creative consultancy. Nor is he an upstart design-trained e-tailer, or a liberal arts educated writer. He is a middle-aged, Danish-born, former Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer with a PhD in user interface design and computer science from the Technical University of Denmark, and 53 United States patents to his name.[2]

Jakob Nielsen, more than anyone else, has put the issue of usability, and the concept of usability testing, on the map for the designers, engineers and clients building products on the Internet. His fortnightly AlertBox column generated 5.8 million page views last year, at the same time as he published the long awaited Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity[3], of which there are over a quarter of a million copied in print, with editions in eleven languages, including Chinese and Russian. In 1998 he left the confines of Sun Microsystems to found the Nielsen Norman Group with Donald A Norman[4], the hero of the last generation to get excited about human factors. Since then he has been omni-present as a commentator in the business, design and mainstream media, as a self-confessed rent-a-Guru for companies such as[5], and as a relentless proselytiser to the eager masses. He is currently completing a thirteen city ‘User Experience World Tour’[6] which also features Brenda Laurel and Bruce Tognazzini, the most recent gurus to throw their hat in with the Nielsen Norman Group. Such is Nielsen’s caché that he was invited to speak at the exclusive World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos[7] earlier this year, reporting back on some of the highlights and the “clueless moments” in his Internet World column[8].

While Nielsen is clearly very smart, and has been around the block (he worked at Bellcore[9] and the IBM User Interface Institute before landing at Sun), the key to his success has been his ability to market himself. Core to this is AlertBox, which is both well conceived (a short abstract of the column is emailed along with a link to the full article on the Web) and knowingly controversial. Two recent columns, ‘The End of Web Design’[10] and ‘Flash: 99% Bad’[11], provoked heated debate in the design and usability worlds, both on- and offline. In his writing, interviews and public appearances he has mastered the art of the memorable quote or phrase. “Boo to” was his response to the launch of the (now) much maligned retailer, while he caricatured WAP as the ‘Wrong Approach to Portability’. He has an engaging speaking style though he noted in an interview for New Media Creative that “I have definitely worked on this aspect of myself; if you heard me speak in the Eighties it was pretty dull”.

Along with memorable quotes Nielsen specialises in mantras, and where he can he turns them into mnemonics such as HOME-RUN Websites (High-quality content, Often updated, Minimal download time, Ease of use). He also makes a point of offering predictions on the future of everything from business to computing. (He has regularly predicted the advent of micropayments, but has also been refreshingly honest at admitting the inaccuracy of these predictions[12].) Although his critical commentary is what grabs attention he is quick to praise good examples of usability, such as the original WebTV interface, most of Yahoo!’s products, (though it has come in for some of his withering criticism as its complexity has increased) and even aspects of[13]. He can turn a grand phrase with the best of them, wrapping up the User Experience World Tour in London by imploring the audience to “go back and do this, as we are building a new economy and it is our fault if it doesn’t work out”. Heady stuff. And a pleasant change from the petty whinging of many of his detractors.

Nielsen wouldn’t be where he is today without getting some backs up, and he has provoked megabytes of criticism, some thoughtful, most slightly childish, by presenting arguments in an unmediated fashion, and blowing his own trumpet.

Reaction in the design world came to a head with the publication of his column ‘The End of Web Design’. On the Babble mailing list one contributor asked “Am I the only one who thinks this guy is an idiot?”[14] while on A List Apart a more reasoned discussant attached his approach, arguing that “just because the truth cannot be reduced to a sound bite, it nevertheless remains a truth”[15]. His discussion of design (which he tends to refer to as ‘graphic design’) is certainly easy to caricature. In his book he describes one approach to design as the “artistic idea of expressing yourself”[16], noting elsewhere that “polished graphic design probably has little impact on usability”[17]. On his own Useit site he comments on why there are almost no graphics: “I am not a visual designer, so my graphics would look crummy anyway. Since this website is created by myself (and not by a multidisciplinary team as I always recommend for large sites) I didn’t want to spend money to hire an artist.”

Nielsen didn’t make any friends in the human factors world when he issued a press release announcing Laurel and Tognazzini joining the Nielsen Norman Group as principals that stated “it’s a good thing anti-trust laws don’t apply here, as we unquestionably have assembled in one company the most prestigious group of usability experts in the world”[18].

While the principals of the Nielsen Norman Group are of undoubted calibre Nielsen has been less vocal about Norman’s effective departure from the Group to work for one of their clients, Chicago-based UNext[19]. That Norman’s departure has not been more commented upon is an interesting reflection on the nature of the Group. While it maintains a Web site and a staffed office the principals have kept their own Web presences (some sporting an NN/group logo and Web ring[20]) and their already substantial public profiles subsume that of the Group. The structure of the Group turns out to be rather pioneering and the issue of the lack of a corporate voice doesn’t appear to trouble any of the principals or, apparently, their clients. Norman and Nielsen even have public disputes. At the London World Tour event Nielsen responded to a question from the audience about developing usable mobile solutions by suggesting that the questioner conduct some field studies. “No!” interjected Norman, his Oz-like presence projected via a live video feed from Chicago. “These people do lots of market research. You are looking at how usable today’s product is, not about future products.” On the CHI-WEB mailing list, to which they both post regularly, Norman responded to the debate stirred up around the ‘Flash: 99% Bad’ column claiming that “Jakob is arguing against its improper use – which sadly seems to be about all there is. If you look at what people have actually done, Jakob is right. If you look at what could be done, he is wrong. So here is a case where one N of NN/group disagrees with what the other N of NN/group said in his newsletter, but both Ns are in complete agreement about the spirit and intent of the newsletter.”

To some degree Nielsen wouldn’t cause so much controversy if he didn’t have valuable insights and effective ways of communicating them. While there are clear limits to his approach his overall contribution to ease of use on the Internet is considerable. He is able to take an overview of the Internet industry and comment insightfully on a wide range of themes.

On the business side he is perceptive about new financial models for online commerce, while criticising companies such as AT&T for “buying up cable networks so they can control what the customer sees”[21]. He recognises the impact an organisation can have on its online presence (‘don’t design to your org chart, or for your Vice Presidents’ is one of his mantras) while emphasising the importance of maintenance over development costs for clients who want a solid Web presence.

He regularly addresses the issue of editorial on the Web, discussing how much users can be expected to read, the importance of tone of voice, journalistic writing practice (the inverted pyramid, one idea per paragraph), the necessity of writing for an international audience, and the importance, with large projects, of having a technical writer on board from the start.

On the subject of interface design he is familiar with the pros and cons around the long running discussion of 3D environments (difficult to control with existing techniques such as scrolling and dragging[22]), metaphors (can be useful but you have to go all the way, and even shopping carts don’t obey all the rules of shopping carts[23]), audio interfaces (use for feedback but the user should be able to turn it off[24]) and speech input (the question is not how to communicate with computers but what to say[25]).

He has even analysed the character of different time-based media, commenting in the book that “TV is about characters, movies are about stories, theatre is about ideas” while making the point that “the Web won’t emulate any of these”.

Nielsen’s twenty years in academia and industry provides him with valuable insights as well as inside experience of concepts that have and will shape the future of the network. He worked with prominent user interface researcher John Gould at IBM, and collaborated at Bellcore with Tom Landauer (author of The Trouble with Computers[26]), while Ted Nelson, of Xanadu[27] fame, inspired his interest in hypertext, and he was using the Internet before the Web was a twinkle in the eye of Tim Berners-Lee. At Sun Microsystems he was associated with the Starfire project[28], a film (produced by Bruce Tognazzini) that attempted to predict and guide the future of computing, and throughout his career he has kept an eye on technologies, such as high resolution screens, that could fundamentally improve the usability of the Internet.

Although this experience is not a pre-requisite for intelligent criticism it has allowed Nielsen to develop some subtlety in his observations. In his book, for instance, he outlines a future where Web browsers are integrated with ‘proxy’ servers that keep track of the bandwidth and quality of service that has historically been delivered by popular sites, and use this information to change the appearance of links on a page to indicate whether the destination page is likely to be fast or slow to load.[29] This level of insight is rare among designers, whose experience of the Web is often circumscribed by what is inside the frame of their favourite browser. He can also be a good bellwether for future design issues. In an interview in 1999 he noted that “one of the things designers have to worry about is how to maintain continuity between the different versions of a service [delivered to a] full-screen computer, a small screen in a car, or a ridiculously small screen on a phone”[30]. This lesson has yet to substantially understood.

Nielsen has an intuitive feeling for the more social-cultural developments, around issues such as trust and credibility that will be needed to underpin future development off the network. One of the concepts he has championed in this domain is reputation management, exemplified by the user-contributed recommendations service, and more recently employed by

On the subject of usability and usability testing Nielsen is clearly in his element. He founded the discount usability engineering ‘movement’ (his term) and was already telling audiences at User Interface 97, and no doubt before, to “get real users, three to five will do, give them real tasks, and shut up; don’t ask users what they want”. The last point can sound draconian, but he is keen to explain that “if you ask customers what they like you will end up doing the wrong studies and creating a focus group” (that favourite of market researchers) “which are known to be dangerous and often come up with the opposite answer to the truth”[31].

Pragmatism is one of Nielsen’s key facets. The idea of discount usability was a pragmatic response to clients who believed that usability testing would be expensive and delay product development. He is also pragmatic about the value of data, pointing out in one AlertBox column that “the most striking truth [about not doing any usability testing] is that zero users give zero insights”[32] and, noting in an interview that “the key issue is not whether you get exactly the right data but that the data impacts the development of the product”[33].

This pragmatism is complemented by a keen instinct to research, measure and quantify. Being able to give clients (and other doubters) hard numbers to chew on certainly clarifies a lot of the discussions in which Web projects get mired. In his book he discussed the scenario of usability testing an intranet design that might save one minute in ten every time an employee goes to a new part of the system. Based on a thousand employees he calculated a return on investment of at least 300%. Figures such as these can certainly win arguments.

On the research side the Nielsen Norman Group recently published their ‘WAP Usability Report’[34], based on study of twenty experienced cell phone users in London who were given WAP-enabled mobile phones for a week. In his conclusions Nielsen speculated that “unless the usability of mobile Internet services and devices improves considerably, people will simply not use them and billions of dollars will be wasted”. While this figure is speculative, in conjunction with a well researched study it may make the mobile phone providers pay attention.

In predicting the effect of technology changes he is on the same page as Nicholas Negroponte when he observes that “the two most common mistakes are to over-estimate the short-term changes and to under-estimate the long-term changes”, noting that “many of the changes that technology experts would like to see do not happen because of human inertia” and many of the more fundamental changes do not happen until a technology has permeated society and has become ubiquitous”[35]. “Accelerating change means that the future will happen sooner than you think,” he claims, admonishing companies that they “should start thinking about it now”[36].

His vision for the future of the Web is compelling, if challenging to comprehend. “In the long term”, he proposes, we should “eliminate browsers and move to a completely integrated system that unifies navigation between system states and information objects, and maintains a single navigation state for all user actions no matter whether they are on or off the Web.”[37] Alongside this we would need a universal network[38] (facilitating what he sometimes refers to as a ‘Webtone’) and “a computerised communication system would that know where a person is and what device currently is the preferred way of reaching him or her.”[39] To achieve this will require “designing an abstract user interface specification that is instantiated differently for each platform”, commenting that “this is much harder than it sounds”[40].

Nielsen is also willing to experiment with some of his ideas on his Useit and the Nielsen Norman Group Web sites. The ‘WAP Usability Report’ is available for electronic download via Digibuy while AlertBox readers are encourage to contribute a micropayment of $2, via Amazon’s recently launched Honor System[41], for every year they have been reading the column.

While Nielsen’s strengths are manifold, there are serious limitations in his approach, and as the Internet industry evolves his current methods may become a hindrance. His tendency to put things in absolute terms doesn’t leave room for the specificities and subtleties that characterise a good design process, and while he acknowledges in the book that “the skilled professional knows when to follow the rules and when to bend a rule or even break it” this qualification couldn’t be implied from the tone of most of his statements.

This absolutism combines with a false universalism when discussing the audience for a Web site. “It is important to ensure that all page designs work across a wide range of platforms and that they can be accessed by people who use old technology” he writes[42], noting that although this may impose a hardship on designers “it is usually a bad business decision to turn away ten percent of your customer base at the door”. In fact many businesses actively discourage customers who they consider to be of little or no value, and while the cost of an unwanted customer is lower on the Web than it is with a phone-, catalogue- or store-based operation it can still add up. More importantly making a site accessible in this way, apart from the extra development cost, may rule out using features and design solutions that would positively benefit the real intended users.

Nielsen’s logic and methodology are occasionally suspect too. In his book he compares ten of the most used sites on the Web with the sites of the ten largest companies in the US[43]. “This simple survey showed that the sites that get the most traffic are more than twice as fast as the sites built by big, famous companies from the old economy. I would argue that the causality goes as follows: It is because the good half of the sites in my study are fast that they get so much traffic.” In fact the causality doesn’t follow. Just as in the real world more people buy books than capital equipment more people will visit than General Electric on the Web.

His approach to critiquing Web sites can suffer from insufficient knowledge of the product. While one can make general observations about the success of a Web design from using the site, without knowing something of the business requirements, intended audience, design brief, budget and the history of the project implementation there is only so much useful that can be said. Nielsen was a critic of from the day of its launch, commenting in AlertBox that “this site is simply slow and unpleasant”[44]. It turns out that a lot of the site’s performance problems were a result of the whole project running late. In order to launch on time the management decided to cut development times by implementing a lot of the functionality that should logically have been at the backend on the client side, using scripts that made the pages heavier, slower and more likely to break. While it can’t be denied that there were usability problems with the site, they couldn’t be blamed on the design team, who worked post-launch to fix many of them. The story is really an argument for designers being more involved in product conception and management, but this insight was missed by critics, including Nielsen, who only surveyed the project superficially.

Nielsen’s critical insights are limited by a tendency to diminish aspects of Web development that he doesn’t feel comfortable with. “Users are rarely on a site to enjoy the design” he writes[45], implying that design is about artistry and getting noticed rather than helping and pleasing the user. In fact design and usability are complementary, with design providing lateral thinking and inspiration, usability critiquing them, and design solving the problems raised by this critique.

Nielsen is known for his hostility to ‘graphics’ but his hostility may just be a misunderstanding. Elsewhere in the book he notes that “white space is not necessarily useless; it can guide the eye and help users understand the grouping of information”[46], thus allowing in by the backdoor good old-fashioned information and communication design and the appropriate use of typography, colour, screen geometry and icons. In fact his view of design appears to be well mediated, even if his comments caricature this. “It is not so much a matter of the quality of the design as it is of the ability of the designer to understand the usability concerns and build them into the design” he noted in an interview, adding that “you shouldn’t even distinguish between design and usability. The design process includes getting the design idea, doing the design, programming it and getting the user data.”[47] His ascetic tendencies will, however, limit his ability to critique design for broadband and immersive entertainment experiences, or comment on the emerging category of hybrid public and retails spaces that are connected to the network. His focus on usability also raises the issue of how one would evaluate the quality of two Web sites that were equally usable. Jared Spool, of User Interface Engineering, notes that more fundamental research knowledge is needed even to give good usability advice. He notes that “Nielsen, or anyone else giving guidance and recommendations, is limited by the knowledge which really only produces substandard results to begin with”.

Although in his book Nielsen argues convincingly that “the tables have been turned, and usability has become the core competency that is necessary for business survival in the network economy”[48] usability can never be more than a means to an end (and only one means at that). Neither can usability be viewed in isolation. As Meriel Lenfestey of Flow Interactive notes: “Every interface element has to be taken in the context of the content, the product aims and the other interface elements around it “ then and only then can you say whether it is ‘usable’ or not.”

One of Nielsen’s oft cited usability problems is slow loading Web pages. While means to solve this problem would be the deployment of faster servers or connections, or the intelligent proxy servers and browsers that he proposes, another means would be to design a way of engaging the user while the page is loading such that the delay goes unnoticed.

To elevate the tools of usability above the goal of the project will lead to bad products. At the Design for Usability conference in London last year Nielsen’s partner Don Norman commented that “usability is only key when the device is useless, or service costs are astronomical” and Nielsen acknowledges this implicitly in his book when he writes: “The fact that telephones are so popular despite their poor audio quality is evidence that content is king, even here.”[49] Norman also commented that knowing about usability problems was never enough, and that human factors advocates had to be as determined as marketers and engineers to see their views prevail: “We can lie just as well as they can, we just need the right language” he told the audience.

One reason that Nielsen appears to privilege classic usability is that it is measurable. While measurable factors are to be cherished, many important factors are not measurable, or the metrics for measuring them haven’t yet been determined. According to Clement Mok, Chief Creative Officer at Sapient, Nielsen is “still trying to make a science out of an art, although there is no core set of measurable issues, beyond brands and editorial, that would be valuable to businesses across the board”. Mok points to OpinionLab[50] (in which he is an investor) as a service taking one approach to the problem of measuring the qualitative and the quantitative aspects of the user experience.

Although Nielsen does discuss user experience his concept of it has a puritanical feel. “The main questions asked by the user when judging content” he writes, “include ‘What’s in it for me?’ and ‘How does this help me solve my problem?’”[51] Where Challis Hodge, of Chicago-based HannaHodge, talks about user experience design in terms of “making things useful, usable and desirable”[52] Nielsen only acknowledges the first two goals, though it is hard to think of great design work that doesn’t incorporate an element of desire. Discussing his influences at the CHI99 interview which matched Nielsen with Clement Mok, the latter cited the Macintosh team “who were about the entire user experience” and Charles and Ray Eames “who tried to make meaningful connections between technology and ordinary people’s lives”. We could also point to Jonathan Ive’s team at Apple, designers of the iMac and the Titanium PowerBook, two successful designs whose key is to evoke desire. While ‘desirable’ may not be a differentiating factor in people’s online experience at present it will be very soon.

With the Web increasingly used to deliver real applications, such as banking and email, and the proliferation of intranets, there will be an increasing need for interface design innovation, but this is an area where Nielsen provides few insights.  While he rightly argues that designers should go with interface conventions that users know best (for instance the use of blue underlining to indicate an unvisited hypertext link) he only addresses possible improvements in interface design that are achievable with current levels of use, rather than those that would involve going beyond users’ current experience and creating new conventions. Addressing one significant interface breakthrough, Spotfire (developed by Ben Shneiderman’s team at the University of Maryland), Nielsen can only comment that “we need to find a small number of these techniques that are not just optimal but are actually pretty good for a larger number of applications and then maybe we can change a small number of things”[53].

Reservations aside Nielsen has had a significant, and almost wholly positive, impact on the development of design for the Internet. His approach needs to evolve into a more rounded view of design that can capture everything from business logic via experience design to engineering practice, while addressing organisational constraints, process, and the qualitative aspects of the user experience and incorporating the concept of desirability. It will also need to go behind the curtain of product development to look at context of use (an area Nielsen’s colleague Brenda Laurel has championed) as well as experience modelling, an approach pioneered in the 90s by Chicago-based E-Lab.

Designers, and anyone involved in development of Internet-based products, still have a lot to learn from Nielsen, not least from the way that he markets himself and his style of communication. There is a more profound lesson to learn as well. His ability to marshall data behind a cogent argument, combined with considerable self-confidence, allows him to make a fundamental difference to the way his clients’ products are developed and, most importantly, the way their organisations think about product development. He is able to embed his ideas into organisations, in a way that simply solving a design problems doesn’t. Nielsen’s approach can have a lasting impact on the way current and future products are developed, and for anyone who has worked on the design of a Web site only to have it redesigned the minute they looked away this should be a salutary thought.

Practitioners speak

Meriel Lenfestey, Founder, Flow Interactive

A London-based usability consultancy service helping clients with research, design and evaluation of interactive products.

There are two sides to Nielsen’s preaching: one regards process and the other regards rules.

As regards rules, in our experience, every project you work on is different. A list of rules is valuable, but can only take you so far and rules do have to be broken from time to time in order to create the most effective product in terms of the user experience and the commercial viability. Every interface element has to be taken in the context of the content, the product aims and the other interface elements around it – then and only then can you say whether it is ‘usable’ or not and work towards improving it.

The other side of his preaching is the process. Here I agree far more. He believes that usability doesn’t have to be expensive or lengthy and he recognises the worth of ‘guerrilla’ usability and fast prototyping cycles. At Flow we believe the most value is gained from regular short user involvement from very early in the process.

I think that Jakob does a good job of raising the profile of usability and user experience – but it doesn’t have to be as dry as he implies.

Jared M. Spool, Founding Principal, User Interface Engineering

A Bradford, MA-based research and training firm specializing in product usability issues.

Jakob is an industry mouthpiece, whether he intends to be or not. If there are any limitations to his approach, they are overshadowed by the limitations of the entire industry.

Four years ago we found that users visiting the best sites could only accomplish their goals 42% of the time. 58% percent of the time they failed.

The problem that we have, as an industry, is that 42% success rate hasn’t improved in four years. While some of the poorer sites have improved, we haven’t seen any real improvement in usability overall.

Since we don’t know how to make a web site succeed more than 42% of the time, we don’t know what advice to give folks. So, when Jakob, or anyone else for that matter, is giving guidance and recommendations, he is limited by the knowledge which really only produces substandard results to begin with.

This isn’t really Jakob’s fault. He is just another victim of a real lack of fundamental research knowledge in the industry as a whole. He knows as much as anyone does – we just don’t know very much.

Jakob has done a wonderful job in getting people interested in usability. In many ways, he was in the right place at the right time – the recent fall of the dot com world has caused executives to actively search out anything that could be helpful.

In order for Jakob and the rest of the industry to have a real long-term effect on development processes, we need to know how to break the barrier. This is why we, at User Interface Engineering, are dedicating tremendous resources to fundamental applied research.

Jakob’s marketing style is very different from ours, but no less valid. He’s set himself up as a Guru, which is an evangelist model. There are lots of good examples of people who’ve been successful at this: Tom Peters, Martha Stewart, Richard Simmons, and Jesse Jackson.

In the evangelist model, the evangelist becomes larger-than-life. In order to get attention, the evangelist has to do outrageous things. Jakob often makes provocative statements to get people’s attention.

For example, he recently announced that ‘Flash is 99% Bad’. Interestingly enough, he had no data (that he shared) to support this claim – just a bunch of opinions that stated that he disliked Flash.

Most of the community of people who thought Flash was an excellent design tool instantly reacted to this statement. After all, he was criticizing their “bread and butter” without giving them a replacement that was acceptable.

It’s hard to say if Jakob’s provoctive approach will have long-term value for the community. If he continues to alienate pockets, then they’ll stop pointing to him as a resource. It’s hard to be an evangalist when the core believers are being turned away.

So, I see some real challenges for Jakob in the future. He’s a very talented man and has been really good at getting attention.

He’s built a top-notch organization, but it’s hard to see under his ‘Guru’ status. Hopefully he won’t have trouble keeping his people while he takes all the credit for their work. And if he shares the credit, he loses his Guru-ness. It’s a Catch-22 situation.

Challis Hodge, CEO, HannaHodge

A Chicago-based user experience company focusing on user-centered innovation for digital products and services.

Jakob Nielsen is an incredible man. He has done more than any single person to educate business on the importance of usability to their business success. He has championed usability as a cause and convinced folks from designers, to developers, to marketers, to consumers that usability matters. His formula for guerrilla usability testing has convinced companies of all sizes (that may otherwise not have been able to consider usability testing) to include it in their development process and thus discover major usability problems before it is too late to correct them. He has been a solid champion and user advocate for the last decade.

Jakob’s limitations seem to lie in his experience as a micro level usability expert. While he is very good at identifying page level issues or problems his expertise does not seem to extend to the macro level.

For the last decade I have been openly calling on Nielsen and other usability champions to broaden their focus. For example, Nielsen’s early position on the Web was that graphics had no place. I have argued against this position while still holding firmly to the principles of user-centred design. Eventually Nielsen backed away from his view. The point here is that usability can only be considered as a component of a larger picture and the rules are not always simple. Most people have real world problems to solve that simply don’t fit into a standard category. I believe that Nielsen’s continued focus on the micro level issues will over time put more distance between him and the street-level practitioners who are building the future one Web site and one wireless application at a time.

What people need from events like the User Experience World Tour and other Nielsen Norman Group events and publications is not sound bites on the micro level issues but advice on how to fix their problems. They need macro level usability gurus who can identify problems and point to solutions. This is a tough challenge. It is easy to shoot the usability fish in the barrel while the macro level issues often require hands on experience from a practitioner. Finding the time to do both is very difficult.


[9] Bell Communications Research, now part of Lucent

[13] Boo should be congratulated, though, on running a site that supports 18 countries equally well in terms of both language and shipping.

[14] Matt Hickerson on Babble

[15] Curt Cloninger on A List Apart

[16] p11

[17] p92

[19] Note about my availability, or, why I moved to Chicago and joined

[21] Interview New Media Creative January/February 2000

[22] p156

[23] p180

[24] p154

[25] User Interface Engineering’s User Interface 97

[26] The trouble with computers: Usefulness, usability and productivity

[27] Nelson’s Xanadu project anticipated the Web by over a decade

[29] p45

[30] NMC interview

[31] NMC interview

[32] ‘Why You Only Need to Test With 5 Users’

[33] NMC interview

[35] p348

[36] p353

[37] p256

[38] “I must emphasise the need for a universal network. The Internet is a universal network. The phone network has been, but it getting fragmented with multiple phone numbers and voicemail.” NMC interview

[39] p368

[40] p28. Easier to separate content and presentation than for interaction.

[42] p97

[43] p47, ‘The Best Sites are Fast’

[44] ‘Five Years Retrospective’ See his comments on in the context of getting subscribers The real story of the interface was told by Niclas Sellebraten, Boo’s former head of design, and David Warner, former creative director, who presented their story at the May 2000 Advance for Design London. They also noted that post-launch one of the main challenges the design team then set themselves was to get this code out and move the functionality to the backend; they claim that more people used site as it got easier – we will never know now if they were really succeeding.

[45] p97

[46] p18

[47] NMC interview

[48] p388

[49] p366

[51] p160

[53] NMC interview

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Nico Macdonald | Spy 2003