Monday, June 26, 2006

no web usability problem is irrelevant

Jumping into the end of the commentary, where I have painful observations and strong personal opinions, we encounter Dave Taylor examining some Jakob Nielsen proclamations.

[PHOTO Above and Below "rubber mirrors" images by: MaryBeth, "desert".]

"Jakob Nielsen on web usability problems. Again."


Violating Web-wide conventions

Ah, that would be the usability version of the blog police knocking on my door, wouldn't it? Web-wide conventions aren't conventions at all and there are plenty of sites that seem to focus on explicitly violating all of these design guidelines. So do those sites comprise the "conventions", or do the sites that match the expectations Jakob and his UI compatriots have comprise the conventions?

Score: irrelevant. Conventions are made to be broken, not followed.

Vaporous content and empty hype

I know exactly what sites you're talking about and yes, I agree 100% that if you aren't adding to the value of the Web, if you aren't producing content, you're adding to the noise, and while I wouldn't say that's a usability problem, per se, it's sure a plague on the Internet today. In fact, some of my best friends' Web sites...

Score: spot on again!

Dense content and unscannable text

Now, finally, we get into a true user interface and usability issue, and here Jakob is right on the mark again. There are few sites that wouldn't be easier to read and understand if there was a bit more "white space" and a bit less information density, allowing you to absorb the content quicker and more accurately.

Score: third one's the charm.

In conclusion, while it's an interesting exercise to consider the eight Problems That Haven't Changed, it's mostly a bunch of irrelevant complaints that fly in the face of how people are actually using the Web.

Modern web users are considerably more sophisticated than they were a decade ago, and I fear that Jakob and his colleagues are simply demonstrating that they are further and further out of the mainstream of designers and Web site producers.

But that's just me. What do you think about his eight problems? Are they all problems? And what other problems do you see with the usability of the Web that haven't been mentioned here?


Dave, I take web usability seriously, for if a web page is dysfunctional, it screams, "Inept. Stupid. Irrelevant." Thus, it's not Jakob Nielsen's "rules" that are out of step with designers, it's designers who are out of touch with users. And their hard to use sites are the proof that they're Narcissistic Designers, rather than Altruistic Designers.

Bad designers makes sites that they like. Good designers makes sites that users like. It's that simple. All web professionals can be classed as For or Against optimized web usability. To demote usability to a secondary spot, under design anarchy, is a mistake.

Usability is first, with First Fast Visual Impression paving the road to user interaction. Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab has proven that most users will bail out of a page, even before it has fully loaded in the browser, if it looks inappropriate. If a business site looks like a cartoon, or if a rock music site looks like a business site. Or if a site looks amateurish, sleazy, or hard to read because of colors, animations, or type size.

Usability Analysis is the champion of the average user, the new user, and the intended user. Not the seasoned, super geek, technical user. Those of us who have above average computing skills often forget that newbies may not know the work-arounds we come up with when at a dysfunctional page.

For example, and this is just common sense, Copying the text you entered into a blog comment box, prior to clicking Submit Comment. That way, if the blog comment function is broken, or your comment contains a word that's blacklisted by a spam filter, you still have those 35 brilliant paragraphs of boring argument you just spent a half hour composing.

Then you can either try posting the comment again, by Pasteing it in to the box, or you can use the text of the commment as the basis of a new post on your own blog. I've done this a few times myself. My writing at other people's blogs is often better than it is here, since I'm a guest in someone's home page.

Web Designers and Developers have problems with sites, too. Not just newbies.

My fear is that web designers are laughing at new user errors, and patting themselves on the back for being so "advanced".

But I see the discussion lists questions web designers and developers ask. I am in contact with the many problems they have in constructing and maintaining sites. The web esoterica seems truly infinite.

To explain away persistent web usability problems can be of no service to us. It only makes the bad designers a bit more smug and self-assured, thus imprisoned in professional mediocrity and myopic anarchy.

I just attended what was probably my 30th session of a web development committee meeting of a certain client.

I keep seeing many things I want to do to the web site, but it's not web designers who are getting in the way. We are the designers. What causes most of our headaches is Content Management Systems (CMS) that are still oriented to static, non-interactive, non-scalable web sites, so-called "online presences", the ghost towns of the internet.

My comment at Dave's post:

I agree with Jakob Nielsen, that all these are still web usability problems, and that designers still persist in making these violations.

There are many other problems, link files that don't upload, RSS vampire blogs, broken forms, no upfront Contact or About page, blogs with few or no external links to substantiating credible info sources, obsessive boring exhibitionism in the blogosphere, and CMS that is still oriented to static sites and fixed positioning, column widths, etc.

While you have downplayed some of these web problems, I leave it to others to proclaim the darker side of these seemingly "irrelevant" problems.

We more geeky types take our skills for granted. Every day I use a work-around to overcome some dyfunctional web page. New users would be trapped, lost, and drowning in despair.

--vaspers the grate


MARYBETH said...

so you chose pictures that most likely will not make the pages of TIME magazine =)
Someone suggested I get some kind of licence for my photography so people cant steal it or worse yet use it then take credit for it!-GOOD GRIEF! is this what the world has come too??
Perhaps when I completely master(perhaps never) my digital monster, I will reach a level of such wonder that preventing theft would be worth taking the precious time out of my life to fill out some god awful long..blah...blah..blah form-pay a faceless - computer bot-for what ? to protect what brings me joy-to prevent me from sharing my joy with other lovers of the art?
I do need to ask what made you pick these 2 pics?

steven edward streight said...

The DRM (digital rights management) devices now used by paranoid or greedy companies, to "protect" are a pretext for a protext.

I mean, they forget that everything is becoming more and more free all the time, including nations and software.

To attempt to protect art, photography, music, whatever, is to lose focus on the real ecommerce goal: to get popular, famous, and thus, engender huge volumes of sales and repeat customers.

Protecting anything results in destroying it, in the digital realm. Ugly copyright notices, FBI warnings, built-in detection systems that phone home every time you use a product, limitations on legit copies, etc. are all Old Economy thinking that is defeated in the face of the new geek realm that rules over all.

So the focus must not be protecting something that few even want to steal...but, rather, on perfecting your product and getting it out there, getting noticed, quoted, cited, reviewed, etc.

I practice what I proclaim. I give out free mp3s and even CDs of my original music, with no worry about anybody ripping me off or claiming credit for it.

Let someone claim they made my music. Doubtful if they could even begin to duplicate it and copy my tricks in sound.

This is just my personal viewpoint, but software and other firms have proven successful by giving tons of stuff away for free. Not everything, but the coolest stuff. Then sell upgrades, add-ons, extensions, customization, deluxe versions, versions with bonus items, associated merchandise (free music, but the tee shirt will cost a little, for example), etc.

A new business model for a new age.

This comment will form the basis of a new post by me at my TechRepublic blog.

Thanks MB for the inspiration. As always.

steven edward streight said...

I picked those 2 pics because they were evocative, puzzling, surreal, weird, interesting, well balanced, well framed, good blur, and high quality imaging.

MARYBETH said...

Dear Steven,
You are very welcome.
Now how in the blog strategic expertise world do i get more exposure for my new blog?