WebReference.com - New Riders Interview with Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir (5/6)
Making the World a Happier Place, One Web Site at a Time
NR: Designing Web Usability, was received with quite a bit of cheers and jeers. Do you see Homepage Usability citing the same type of controversy or do you think that more heads are nodding in agreement now because usability has become such a prominent issue?
JAKOB: Gradually, we are converting the doubters because ultimately we are speaking out of the reality of how average people behave on the Internet. Whereas most people speak on the basis of what they personally like, we speak based on the truth of how real people are. Gradually, as more of the enemies of usability understand that, at some point they'll try a usability test and observe real people. When this happens, many of them come around, but not necessarily everybody. I would rather have the book get four stars at Amazon.com as the average of most giving it five stars and some people giving it one star and saying, "This is horrible." I'd rather have a book that has a strong personality and fight for what we believe in and really fight for humanity than something that kind of blends and try to paper it all over and say, "Well let's just all be friends here." I'd rather fight for what's right, and it really is right to stand up for people and their right to simplicity. Implied in that is a company's right to make money on the Internet rather than pay all its money out to vendors that are out to sell the latest gadget, buzz word, or technology that's going to slow down users and not give them any money. I think that's one of the reasons that there are those one-star complaints about usability books. There are enemies of usability who are trying to pull a fast one over companies to spend their Internet budget on the latest tricks and glamour design. Sometimes, these are really big vendors that are trying to push a technology they've invested a lot in. The only thing in our favor is that we have a hundred million uses in our corner.
NR: Last year at Internet World, you debated Flash guru Hillman Curtis. You stated then that 99 percent of Flash is bad. But clearly this is a technology that continues to grow in popularity. As you see it developing for an even wider audience, do you stick to your guns on the 99 percent or do you feel that designers are really getting it and crafting what you would call usable sites that incorporate Flash?
JAKOB: The percentage can certainly change over time, and it is our goal to drive down the percentage. It will probably never read 0, but it's not a law of nature that says that 99 percent of Flash has to be bad. It's the way it was used in the past. I do think that this is another one of those areas where there is a gradual change and where it has proven to be worth the struggle to fight for humanity. Ultimately, they have taken action, which is worthy of significant praise. Similarly, I think many Flash designers were, in the early days, only interested in making some glamorous, fast-moving animations that had no purpose whatsoever other than their own personal satisfaction. There are still people like that out there, but I think there are fewer, and I think more of them are becoming convinced by the usability argument and are now trying to do better. The usability of multimedia is an additional issue, which is the more features you have and the more capability you have, the more rope you get to hang yourself. Therefore, there is a lot of work necessary to make a multimedia element easy to use and communicate with the user by satisfying his needs. It's easy to get swayed by the glamour and the glitz, which takes us back to Flash, the very word. But it doesn't have to be that way and I do think that we are winning in that area as well. Maybe we are winning a little bit more slowly, but I think still ease of use is winning there too. People will go out and buy these usability books. They will gradually start paying attention to us because they will die if they continue to alienate their audience.
MARIE: Downloads and splash pages are usually just eye candy, and have nothing to do with the site's core offering. They're usually not integrated well, so people aren't really considering the first, most obvious question, which is "Where does multimedia add value to what we're offering on our site?" In other words, multimedia should be used when there is clear benefit from showing something moving over just using words or a still picture. Often totally separate departments or outside companies create multimedia elements, so it's no surprise that the end result doesn't relate to the rest of the site and doesn't meet users' needs and is cumbersome just like any other type of design that is done outside of the overall process.
Created: October 15, 2001
Revised: October 15, 2001