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Book review: Prioritizing web usability »

FERDY CHRISTANT - FEB 15, 2009 (09:46:28 AM)

A while ago I read the much recommended Don't make me think!, as I wanted to learn about web usability for my own projects. Although that book was impressing, I still kept a hunger for more hands-on advise concerning web usability. I hit the jackpot by getting a copy of Jakob Nielsen's Prioritizing web usability...

The book dives into the topic of web usability and gives tons of real world advise in this area, advise that you can use right away in your own work. There is a wealth of very explicitly stated do's and dont's covering pretty much all areas of web and information design: layout, fonts, colors, search, navigation, forms, rich media, web writing, and much, much more.

What is most important about this book is that it is not solely founded on the author's opinion, it is based upon facts and observations taken from real users using thousands of websites. Many of these findings are presented in the book and the consequences are discussed. Some statistics are shocking: 43% of users do not scroll and therefore do not see what is "below the fold". About half of your users is on a 6th grade reading level. Hardly anybody reads text above three paragraphs, and even that is scanned, not really read.

It is real world statistics like this that urges one to come to the point, as the author states: "users spend the majority of their time on other sites, not yours". They are not there because they like you or enjoy theit stay, they are there for a task, and they want to do it as quickly as possible so that they can back to their life. I think the author is right in that most web designers design for themselves, not for their users.

The book is vast, packed with advise, richly illustrated with countless screenshots of real websites, along with comments on what is wrong with them. This book offers excellent value for money, I consider it a must-read for anyone in the web publishing world, it is that good.

The book does bring some doubts to mind. Jakob is well known for being somewhat of an extremist in web usability. Just check out his site (useit.com). The site is extremely usable: it is very readable, very simple, very fast. Still, it looks like it was from 1996. Part of me rejects that extremely conservative philosophy, whilst the other part cannot argue with real world statistics. It will be hard finding a balance in this.

Anyways, go read this book. It will put your feet back on the ground.

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