Nielsens Pet Peeves

By Brad Wieners  |  Posted 2004-07-05 Print this article Print

Among your Web site pet peeves, you inveigh against pop-up ads, which you once compared to selling a vacuum cleaner by first dashing someones ashtray on the floor. Thats completely what it is like, yes. My screen is really precious to me. Its mine; dont go and pollute it. OK, but what have you got against PDFs?
Well, the problem is that PDF documents are just not very suitable for online access because they are optimized for print, and theyre big linear documents and, therefore, theyre not very good for search. So, if you find something thats in a PDF file, its probably on page 217 or something, and being dumped at page one doesnt really help you that much. And so often, youll miss the information even though it is, in fact, in the file.
Also, the formatting is optimized for print, so its simply a nice brochure. Its typically letter-sized, and you kind of have to scroll it too much or the type becomes too small and hard to read. And the very first time you experience this, you dont even see the document. All you see is "Now were loading Acrobat." So, it becomes an extra delay that people hate as well. Youre also not a fan of drop-down menus. For example, youd prefer to type in a two-letter abbreviation for your state, "CA," than scroll down looking for it.

Exactly. Because its much faster and its less error-prone.

The reason I think that drop-downs are so common is that the programmers want to avoid having to validate the input, but its not really that difficult to write a little routine that checks that you have one of the authorized abbreviations. And its actually much less error-prone because what very often happens is that people who want to enter "California" will end up with "Alabama" because the menu kind of first goes to C, but then it goes back to A. This is a minor irritant, but its an example of a more general issue which is, Where do you put the burden? Do you put the burden on the computer or on the user?

Another thing that this points to is the general principle that if a task is keyboard-centric, stay at the keyboard as much as possible. If its mouse-centric, stay at the mouse as much as possible.

Many of our readers have been through a generation or two of their own Web sites and intranets. Any mistakes to avoid when redesigning that are distinct from the original development process?

Well, the biggest difference is that if you have a redesign, you already have a design by definition, and, therefore, I would very strongly recommend starting by not actually doing anything new, but by researching what you already have. This is a piece of advice that most people think of as weird because they feel like, "I want to just get moving, I want to get moving on my new thing, I want to throw out the old thing and get a new thing." But thats putting the cart before the horse. You want to know first what works on your old design, and what doesnt work, and why it doesnt work. Those are all very important questions to get answered, because otherwise what happens is that you may actually lose some of the features that worked well in the old design. And of the ones that didnt work, you know, maybe youll have something different, but whos to say that different is better? So, its very, very important to do a study of the existing design. The existing design is your best prototype of your new design because its already working, it has all the features, and it has all the users right there.

That seems common sense enough.

Sad to say, people often miss that.

Pet Peeves
  • Failure to include a tag line that explicitly summarizes what the site or company does.
  • Neglecting to use a liquid layout that lets users adjust the home page size.
  • Dont use color to distinguish visited and unvisited links.
  • Use graphics to decorate, rather than to illustrate real content.
  • Give an active link to the home page on the home page.

    Source: Dr. Jakob Nielsens "Alertbox," November 2003 In the past, youve suggested that 10 percent of the budget for any Web or intranet project go toward usability. Still a good rule of thumb?

    That is still a good figure. Ultimately, it should be higher than that, but in todays world, thats a good recommendation. The way to think of that is, really, that you spend 10 percent of your budget making sure youre doing the right thing, and then 90 percent on doing that thing.

    Next Page: Resources for Web design.


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