« Progressive Disclosure- the best interaction design technique? | Main | Graphic Design vs. Usability »

April 07, 2004


Pinka Tunisienne

Hi guys ,
Iam from Tunisia and Iam preparing my PHD on Human -Computer Interaction , can somebody send me an electronic version of the lecture pleaaaaaaaase I would be much obliged , thank you so much (my e mail is : [email protected])

Account Deleted

The good thing that Nielsen has done, as some have already mentioned, is increase the importance of usability in the design of UI. However, as designers, it's obvious that we must take everything with a pinch of salt. What was applicable in 1994 is not necessarily applicable now.

Nielsen's ego was good for us designers till the time companies started noticing us. Beyond that, we are recognised as puppets. The most ideal way is to recognise users across cultures (Nielsen hardly concentrated on cross-cultural usability, did he?) and do a thorough user research. Derive your own heuristics first that would guide the rest of your design.

Hence, overall I credit Nielsen for streamlining the whole usability thing, however, from your post and his views I do feel he is a little misunderstood.


People should stop complaining about Jakob because without him the field of web usability would not even exist. Personally I think a web usability expert can be easily replaced with common sense - however in reality most people don't have common sense so it doesn't work out that way.


I've got my trademark on Nielsen: "Nielsen is dead, long live usability!" :)


I’m an usability engineer.

I want to reengineer http://www.useit.com/

My rate: 7 times the daily rate Sir Nielsen is asking.


"For example, Nielsen is very vocal about 3D and virtual reality interfaces. He claims that evolution did not intend humans to navigate in 3D space. Since I did my masters research in the usability of virtual environments, "

That's hillarious for more than just the reason you point out re: what other interfaces are being developed. Look at the statement itself!

Humans aren't intended to navigate in 3D space? Wow, has this guy never looked up from his computer screen? THE WORLD IS 3D SPACE.


Hi, thank you for that article :-) I'm writing a thesis about ergonomics and web writing, and I'm obviously mentionning Nielsen's theories, but I would like to talk about his detractors, do you know any famous names (as famous as Nielsen himself) who have a different point of view from his about web writing?
Thanks very much in advance and sorry for my English mistakes :D


I consider Jakob Nielsen both good and bad. Good for his views on Flash and readability, bad for his views on design. Is it really that difficult to change the disgusting cyan colour on his website to a more harmonizing colour? Where are the arguements for the use of such colour schemes?



Thanks for your comments.

With regard to "personal attacks", that over-simplifies the analysis and issues raised.

You may have missed my point. I'm glad Usability News didn't:


15 April 2004
Submitted by Ann Light

Jakob Nielsen has an unhealthy monopoly on Usability Consciousness, says Frank Spillers in his blog, Demystifying Usability. He looks at the history of this rise to power, linking to a range of critiques that have been published over the last few years.

Is it just sniping to criticise Nielsen in public? Possibly an element of envy informs some attacks on the man, but it is his stranglehold on usability: what the field means, what it should offer and how it should be done, that drives most commentators to challenge him. Spillers comes into this latter group, assessing the impact of one dominant voice.

Insightfully, he shows how Nielsen has set a hectoring tone for the industry. Even though the man himself doesn't talk this way with clients, the tone of his marketing materials has influenced a generation:

'One of the things I have noticed about people who take Nielsen's teachings at face value is that they end up communicating like him. The blaming, critical and self-righteous tones that characterize Nielsen's articles and interviews are not to be confused with how a professional usability consultant ought to communicate.'


Josh LaMar

While I don’t hold Jakob Nielsen up to Guru status, I do find his comments accurate and thought provoking. In the realm of web design and usability, I believe it’s important to survey the entire industry, not a single person. Thus, we should all be reading as much as we can from several different sources in order to balance out our own views of current trends in web design and usability.

It seems that this particular article was mostly a personal attack on Jakob-that he had conflicts of interest, that he doesn’t care about graphic design, that he has a bad writing style, etc. These personal attacks, while they may be true, don’t affect the content of his articles. I still think he has good things to say, though I would not base my entire opinion on usability on one person’s views, be it Jakob or Jared or Edward (Tufte) or Ben (Schneiderman)… (I could list several more here).

As for the argument of visual design, I completely agree. Jakob is entirely focused on usability-does the site work? If the answer is yes, then you’ve met his goal. However, there can be a marriage between graphic design and usability; form and function. I believe that as technical communicators, as web developers, as content owners, as graphic designers that is our job.

An interesting side note on the use of blue for links: Anatomy has shown that blue is the worst color to use because there are actually no blue cones in the fovea of the eye. This means that we can only perceive the color blue indirectly. When we focus on something, we use the fovea of the eye. The fovea allows us to focus on something about the size of a thumbnail held at arm’s length. We can only see blue using our peripheral vision, that is, outside of the fovea because we literally have NO blue receptors (cones) in the fovea.

Jakob should not have a “Monopoly on Usability Consciousness.” That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to what he says, it just means that we apply it with a grain of salt.

Matt Bailey

Having met Jacob on several occasions and having the chance to talk to him I think you are correct in your assessment of the "dualism" of Jakob Nielson.

I was amazed in my first meeting at his willingness to stop and talk with someone whom he had never met before. We talked about usability testing and he brought up some very good points when I shared some of my hesitations to his theories. In subsequent meetings, he was always as approachable as he was the first meeting, and just as entertaining and insightful. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I was able to talk with him and I always felt as though I had come away with a much better understanding of usability, and him as well.

Jacob is a pioneer in the field, an antagonistic pioneer, yes. But isn’t that what marks any movement striving for validation? The hippie movement in the 60’s provided us with some very colorful characters that did nothing else but agitate the establishment. Sometimes, it is one of the ways that to get the attention of ‘old school’ marketers and shake them into modern consciousness.

Margaret Rasor

I find Nielsen very limited and narrow in his focus. Like an earlier post here, I agree he brought usability to the foreground. But his arrogant and smug attitude has turned off a lot of people who should listen to what he has to say in terms of the nuts & bolts of usability. Nielsen seriously needs to get over himself and wake up to the new millenium. Ecommerce websites are only a part of what is being developed using web technologies these days. He rarely devotes any type of research to web-based applications and the usability challenges they present to software development teams and end-users. Probably because most software development companies are so turned off they will never submit their products to his review. It's OK to criticize, but do it constructively and with tact. Plus, the web is not the only software medium, although it is the most visible. A spoonful of sugar and a good dose of humility goes a long way, and Nielsen could use both.


Jakob Nielson's a loser. His site's terrible looking! He should just admit he's a loser with a terrible site and leave us all alone.

Paul Bennett

The day we need this relic telling us how to make web pages is the day we need to breathe sand. "Useless" doesn't even begin to describe Jacob.


I liked your article.
Your link ´humorous´ http://www.rc3.org/clips/nielsen_drinking_game.html does not work.

Andrey Smagin

I absolutely agree with you on this. But I think that Jakob Nielsen is what the world needed that time. He is a pop figure. Thanks to him the world looks at usability with more attention now. Without being emotional and arrogant he wouldn't be as attractive to masses as he is. He fulfilled his role - attracted everybody’s attention to usability. Being diplomatic and scientifically accurate wouldn't do the job. He is a great man, but we as professionals should know better than blindly listening to him and should continue the work he started and be grateful for the attention we have thanks to him.

Etienne Ranc

It's just a fad, his popularity will fade away. And yes, he hasn't been opposed. But I guess that's just because communicologists haven't entered the realm of multimedia and interaction well enough. I'd like to hear what Charles
S. Peirce would have to say on the matter if he were alive today.

Américo Santos

Not to mention the fact that his kind of usability is totally turned to commercial sites. I might want to make an intriguing navigation if I'm working with web-art, for example, to explore new web possibilities e help it evolve. A photographer's site, for instance, can sacrifice some rules to favor the design. It's a big mistake to think the web as any other broadcast mass media. To force it to do so is to forget everything useful the web can offer as a cultural revolution, e make just another TV channel...


Check out this usability evaluation of Nielsen's site where he gets a "C" mark when his guidelines are applied to his own site:


Chris Murphy

The only reason Nielson has been granted such celebrity status is because of the lack of an opposing voice. Nielson had some good points, and he had some fatal misses; and a lot of it I believe is peppered with his own sense of self-importance. Unfortunately, there have been few raised voices - or at least voices loud enough - to point any of this out.

The general public, consumers, and business professionals have no clue as to what is "good" design/usability - that's why they hire out to agencies, and trust that they know what they're doing. So when they get wind of some a celebrity expert - suddenly everyone wants to join the band wagon and forget common sense.

Designers need to step up and speak up. What Neilson says is not law, people need to understand that. Usability, like technology, changes. Some fundamentals stay the same, while others evolve - becoming more complex or simplified. Nielson's concepts and general principles still hold some feasibility – some are quite common sense – but like all things bandwagon: use/administer/consume with digression.

Vidya Gopinath

Humorous comment on Jacob Nielsen's view on Web Usability and designing.Though a little sarcastic
in certain parts,a very entertaining piece of writing.Did enjoy reading it.

Jeff Noyes

My personal favorite is his Flash 99% bad article. Shortly after writing it, he joined Macromedia as a consultant. About a week after joining, another article was released titled "Flash 99% good. So, did he revamp the tool and entire population in a week? Personally, Im a big fan of flash's potential, and I've seen and used some of the releases since the 99% good article was released - and although the tool is somewhat enhanced, it's in no way 100% better. Building usable flash sites is partially up to the developer. Having Neilson on the board, might result in a 5% increase - but a 100% improvement is nothing more than food for his ego!

Josine Griffiths


maryrose lyons

On a positive note, his mass market appeal brings usability issues to the fore where otherwise they may not have been included in projects...

Matthew Oliphant

If you stop believing in him he will go away.

Wow, this comments list is looking awfully familiar. Damn HIPIS.

Ron Zeno

The problem isn't as much as Jakob himself, but the community that allows, even encourages, such behavior.

John S. Rhodes

You didn't mention Spaking Jakob Nielsen.


Disclaimer: I wrote Spanking Jakob Nielsen. ;-)

Chris McEvoy

You didn't mention "The Day Alertbox Died" on my site!

The comments to this entry are closed.