Time to say goodbye to Jakob Nielsen?

Posted by Dave CollinsWebsite Optimisation

If you haven’t yet heard of Jakob Nielsen, I can only assume that you have memory issues. Welcome to my world.

Jakob Nielsen has been described as the guru, king and world’s leading expert on website usability, and even the stoic Financial Times describe him as “perhaps the best-known design and usability guru on the Internet“. Perhaps.

So it is with some trepidation that I have to state that the web has outgrown Jakob Nielsen, and although interesting in principle, his views are outdated to the point of redundancy.

Allow me to explain.

Let’s assume you’ve either never heard of Jakob, or don’t know very much about him.

You go to your search engine of choice, and search for his name. At the time of writing this, the first two results from Google point to his www.useit.com website. You click on the link to his homepage, and are confronted by a page with 712 words, 109 links, two 30 pixel images and one button.

Without going into detail about his beliefs, he is primarily concerned with the awful mess that has become the web, and the general lack of usability.

In principle I agree, and I’ve been writing and speaking of the need to balance between form and function for longer than I care to remember. But a balance is required. And as his own website demonstrates, too much emphasis on theoretical usability leads to something that is next to impossible to use in real life.

Try it yourself. Go to www.useit.com and find out (1) what he believes and (2) what he proposes to do about it. For the purpose of writing this posting I went to research him, and found third-party interviews and explanations to be far more useful.

The www.useit.com website has become a classic example of how even a sound principle can be stretched enough to distort it into something fundamentally flawed and unusable. Jakob Nielsen’s ideas haven’t adapted with time and have unfortunately been rendered quite redundant.