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Weblog Entry

ReUSEIT

August 15, 2003

Jakob Nielsen, usability guru, gets a bad rap for having a hard-to-use web site. Oh, and can I say it’s ugly and outdated?

Bob Sawyer wasn’t content to let the situation stand, and approached Nielsen about a redesign contest. While the contest isn’t officially endorsed by Jakob or the Nielsen Norman Group, the response was one of encouragement and mild amusement.

So the contest is on. Let’s see what you can do. The prizes are great (there are none) and the recognition is paramount (you will not receive a major label recording contract as a result, we can almost guarantee) so what are you waiting for?

Confirmed judges include such luminaries as Adam Kalsey, Dan Benjamin, Joe Clark, and oh yeah, somehow I’m in that list too.


Reader Comments

Jai says:
August 15, 01h

Good point, Bob. I’m from New Jersey… Foot in Mouth disease runs rampant here ;)

haze says:
August 15, 01h

the reason why i’m being harsh is because the argument of form vs functionality is an old one. there is no winner. a good site/product must have both. so it’s natural to assume a site should be balanced out; sometimes sacrificing functionality for form, sometimes vice versa.

nielson often goes in and critiques a site, blasting off at every single functionality issue, disregarding *form*. so should all web developers make sites that look like useit.com? no, because it looks like crap. if he were to design his own site, his words would hold less merit since ppl will come to realize BALANCE IS KEY. even he himself cannot properly maintain a good balance, how much of an expert is he anymore?

on a PR note, he could always have someone else design his site and could avoid a lot of public scrutiny by saying he didnt design it…

August 15, 04h

Form and Function should always meet in the middle but as Haze says it depends on the context! A site like useit would just not work if it were aimed at Kids but for most IT professionals it is suffice even if it is a little boring even for them.

4
jlintz says:
August 15, 04h

One reason why his site sucks so much is because he is not a designer. By no way am I defending him, I personally find him to be way too much of an extremist in alot of cases. Saying he sucks at web design is like saying a football coach sucks at playing football. His job is to critque and ‘coach’ ,if you will, other sites in their design. I think a wise choice would be to hire a designer company while he monitored every step of the way helping in the usability of the design. That’s just my two cents.

Big John says:
August 15, 07h

Considering that Jacob’s star has been descending for some time, I bet he’s quite pleased at this development. I would be. Now he will have a whole slew of alternate site looks without lifting a finger, and noone may blame him directly for any of them.

Heck, this might just loosen up the old so-and so.
(heh heh)

Nice going Bob! I wish I’d thought of it. Not that I will offer a redesign tho; Too lazy. (I’m a stinko designer too)

Bob says:
August 15, 10h

True, the prizes are vaporware at the moment. I’m hoping to alleviate that very soon!

haze says:
August 15, 10h

can you imagine a song, a type of delicacy, or a car that everyone –from all walks of life, culture, and nationality– unanimously agrees upon? no. why? because each person’s needs and desires are different. with this in mind, can there ever be a website where nielson cant critique? is there a site where he’ll stop and say “this is the perfect website. it cannot be improved upon.”

as the usability expert, his site would be under the microscope and there’s no way his own accolade can live up to others’ expectations. he’ll have tonnes of usability experts knocking his work.

this is what i dislike about nielson. he’ll slam down on companies’ websites and totally disregard the aesthetic factor of a site. there’s a balance between form and function. he’s all function and no form. if he were to redesign his site, i can guarantee you that he will be exposed for the fraud that he is.

Jai says:
August 15, 11h

Dang haze, that was harsh! But I must agree about the aesthetic (rather lack-there-of) of this guys website. To quote a friend of mine uot of context “It looks like digital dog crap”. And, although the idea of a design contest is intriguing to me, have to wonder why a “web guru” needs a contest to have his site designed… Something smells fishy and it isn’t fish this time… Having said that, let’s see… what cuold I create to be a good design… ;)

August 15, 11h

^^^
Ouch

There have been a couple of redesign contests popping up lately. I think I will give this one a shot especially since the deadline isn’t till Oct. 31. Gives me some time to learn how to design.

The trouble with this redesign contest though is that you are trying to redesign the most scrutinize site on the web. It will be knocked on from all angles (usability and aesthetics). Kind of makes me feel like it would be easier to redesign Yahoo.

Bob says:
August 15, 12h

Jai: “why a “web guru” needs a contest to have his site designed…”
—-
Nielsen didn’t ask for this contest - I approached him asking if I could sponsor it. It’s just for fun, recognition, and whatever prizes become available for the winners.

Paul: “The trouble with this redesign contest though is that you are trying to redesign the most scrutinize site on the web. It will be knocked on from all angles (usability and aesthetics).”
—-
Ahhh… and thus the challenge of the contest! :-) To make it pretty, usable, and accessible, all at the same time is one thing if you’re just doing your own web site; but to carry this off on the site of the most visible usability guru on the face of the planet would gain you quite a bit of recognition, wouldn’t it?

11
Michael says:
August 16, 02h

I suspect many people dislike the way Jakob’s pages default to a large font, but that’s OK by me: it’s perhaps appropriate for a usablility site.

I think some of the stick he’s been handed here is a bit unfair. He does use “title” tags a lot, which is good. and he has *so much* on usability that some of it has to be useful. Compare:

http://www.sensible.com/

OK, I know the book is good; but there’s virtually nothing of interest on Steve Krug’s site. And it never really changes.

Jakob probably spends more time thinking about even _small issues_ than most of us, for example, the Relevance-Enhanced Image Reduction: Better Thumbnails (Nov. 1996 Page marginalia).

I’d say, his real fault is that he is not “making effective use of stylesheets”

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9707a.html

:-)

… or it would have been effective use back in July 1977 when he wrote that piece.

12
scottbp says:
August 17, 04h

Personally I have read more than one interview with JN where he has expressed an opinion that the web should be for information, just information, text, data… not images and design… just text!

So not surprising that his site looks horrible (and in at least my opinion is unusable because of it) and that he has already said he is unlikely to use any design from this contest.

That being said, good on you bob… redesigning useit is a good challenge!

redux says:
August 17, 09h

well, there are some nice prizes now…and i’ve got a preliminary design ready-ish. might tweak it some more…hell, with the october deadline, i might submit this soon and work on a few others…

good stuff !

Mike says:
August 17, 11h

I think you guys (and a lot of people in general) give Neilsen short shrift - useit.com has a lot of really good and well though-out information and I tend to discover something new while I’m there.

The lack of graphics is also explained -

http://www.useit.com/about/nographics.html

It’s true that the coding in tables leaves something to be desired. Perhaps the navigation can be improved, but I really can’t fault the guy for what is a non-styled (as opposed to poorly designed) site.

I don’t know where people get the idea that he’s anti-designer though. Anyway, enough of the apologist from me - in general I think everyone should look beyond the surface and just read and learn from Neilsen’s writing.

Maybe I’ll enter the contest too. :D

Bob says:
August 17, 11h

My *personal* belief (and I could really be off the mark here) is that expecting your site to load in less than a second on a 28.8 dialup is admirable, but unnecessarily short-sighted. Honestly, how many of Nielsen’s readers are still on 28.8? The non-technical, “I-have-Internet for the email” users might still have 28.8 connections, but I suspect that the overwhelming majority of Nielsen’s users are at 56K at the very least.

Nielsen’s lack of images is mainly because (a) he isn’t a designer, (b) he isn’t interested in paying one to do his sites, and (c) images add no real value to his site.

The perception that he’s “anti-designer” comes from his infamous Flash rant, combined with the fact that so many designers still think in terms of image maps, slice-and-diced images in nested tables, and form before function. Because he advocates function before form, more or less, designers feel threatened or, like some I have talked with, feel he’s attacking them personally.

There’s a happy medium: to make sites beautiful on the outside, and usable, accessible, and semantically correct on the inside. That’s what this whole contest, and what Built for the Future is all about.

16
Michael says:
August 18, 01h

I shan’t try to compete for this, because I’m not a designer. But I did, as an experiment, try to re-jig his current “Alertbox” column to make it more readable:

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030811.html

http://www.btinternet.com/~historiae/nielsen.html

In my view, it was so under-designed as to lack readability. The text is too wide, and there’s no leading. The ordered list is crammed in there with no space above or below. My version has a narrower column that also enlarges with the font, using the technique here:

http://www.maxdesign.com.au/presentation/em/

And for good measure so do the nav buttons.

I did have to use a spacing hack. But it is only a first attempt at the page by an amateur….

haze says:
August 18, 04h

i’m quite happy nielson isnt a (building) architect. i’m sure he’d be saying how pointless it is to have water fountains, or benches, or statues inside a building lobby as it would impede the functionality of the building. after all, the lobby is a lobby, not a museum. the functionality of a lobby is to allow ppl to walk thru it. placing aesthetical statues in the lobby will slow down traffic. removing that statue will increase the size of the lobby and increase the flow of traffic. therefore, any lobby with large water fountains hinder functionality!!! oh boy, does this sound like familiar rhetoric? ;0)

18
Jim Dabell says:
August 18, 10h

>I suspect many people dislike the way Jakob’s pages default to a large
> font

They don’t. They use the font size configured in your browser for most of their text. If that’s not what you prefer, change your font size.

> Personally I have read more than one interview with JN where he has
> expressed an opinion that the web should be for information, just
>information, text, data… not images and design… just text!

I haven’t. I have, however, seen many people react like this when he’s said something like “people are there for the content, not for a pretty picture”. I’m not saying he hasn’t said what you claim, it’s just that my experience is that people start reading his interviews with certain preconceptions of what he’s going to say, and end up reading more into what he says than they should.

There are two major gripes I have with the useit.com website. Firstly, when searching for an older alertbox, it highlights the words you searched for when you view the article. Now I have no major problem with this, it’s just that it’s implemented wrongly. At the moment, the search results page passes the search terms in the URL. This means that the search terms will always be highlighted - when you bookmark the URL, when you send the link to people, and so on. It also means that you are visiting a different URL to the normal alertbox, linked to by other sites, off the main page, off the archive page, and so on. This is unnecessarily wasteful in that it prevents efficient caching and slows down the website. A better approach would be to simply look at the Referer HTTP header. I know it’s unreliable, but the search terms highlighting is just a fancy extra, right?

The other problem that I have with the site is that it’s quite difficult to navigate. The front page is unfocussed, it’s nothing more than an unstructured list of links and the sections aren’t adequately separated from each other (e.g. the alertbox and reports sections have no separation apart from the heading, and the whitespace in the alertbox section suggests that it isn’t all one section. Another example is the alertbox archives. A linear list of every single alertbox ever published is not a friendly interface. Neither is search when you can’t remember the exact terms in use. How about breaking it up into sections?

19
scottbp says:
August 18, 10h

“I haven’t. I have, however, seen many people react like this when he’s said something like “people are there for the content, not for a pretty picture”. I’m not saying he hasn’t said what you claim, it’s just that my experience is that people start reading his interviews with certain preconceptions of what he’s going to say, and end up reading more into what he says than they should.”

Jim, I’m pretty sure the most explicit example I was thinking about was for an english newspaper. I’m having trouble finding it online, but the question was along the lines of what is your idea of the ideal internet… answer being as already mentioned.

But apart from that I personally cannot ever glean much information from his site, which is the thing being dscussed, it is perhaps past time for him to clean it up. This competition has some good judges and it is always interesting to get ones work out there in the community.
I just wish that someone other than JN had been picked to redo

Tim says:
August 19, 05h

Maybe JN should install Movable Type…

MikeyC says:
August 22, 07h

“I must agree about the aesthetic (rather lack-there-of) of this guys website.”

…aesthetic…shmaesthetic…i think it’s fairly obvious he’s designing for the lowest common denominator…and i mean the absolute lowest!

http://www.zeit.ca/ncsa_mosaic.png

August 24, 11h

So what usability testing will you guys do on the redesigns?

You know that Jakob will probably do a bunch on the “winners” – and sell that back as a $190 report. :)

–Kynn