Usability is dead?
November 22, 2000 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Usability is dead? Frogdesign's creative director says: "There's no merit to focusing entirely on usability". Anyone who says that shouldn't be designing websites, IMHO. [from kottke]
posted by owillis (17 comments total)
Reading this link took me to the Jakob Neilson's site which had a link to a discussion of the usability of Florida's butterfly ballot. I guess we just can't get away from the topic of the time.
posted by fpatrick at 11:16 AM on November 22, 2000

Or you could read on, and see that she's opposed to Orthodox Jakobism: task-based analysis.

I work into conversation that on every page, the user needs to know where they are, what they can do there, and where they can go, and I show a really wide variety of work. I teach students to provide context, rather than explicit instructions in their designs.

If the Web's going to evolve, usability has to metamorphose into something closer to typography. Jakob Nielsen would have designed books with "turn page" in the bottom right corner. That doesn't help anyone in the long run.
posted by holgate at 11:21 AM on November 22, 2000

If web usability is dead because people understand the web now, I'd like to hear why we still have software usability engineers testing users to make 10-year-old software like MS Word easier to use. She is unclear on the concept and has shot herself in the foot. Maybe she doesn't realize a majority of Americans are not even online yet. As interactivity grows with Flash, Java, etc. and interfaces become truly unique to each web site, the need for usability testing will be stronger than ever.

posted by fleener at 11:21 AM on November 22, 2000

Now all of a sudden, the focus isn't "we aren't meeting our usability standards." Now it's "what kind of cool user experience can we make that has motion and user interactivity?"

oh my god! haven't we learned from gabocorp that motion and user interactivity is not all where it's at?

cool user experiences and motion/interactivity do not translate into revenue, at the same time blowing away usability. and not that i don't like flash, i make flash sites all the time!

i can't help but wonder how this guy came up with the bright idea that it's not important how usable something is.

working example? just take a look at marchFIRST's site, whose stock has toppled from it's high (the near $200's) to $2.
posted by ajbriones at 11:22 AM on November 22, 2000

ack... change "this guy" to "this lady"
posted by ajbriones at 11:23 AM on November 22, 2000

ex-working example?, which as peterme said, really had the usability thing sorted, and still went out of business. there might be a correlation but there's no causation: went tits-up so quickly because it was run by amateurs, not because the site had an impossible UI.
posted by holgate at 11:27 AM on November 22, 2000

yeah, but 's crap-ass interface sure wasn't helping those virtual cash registers to ring...
posted by owillis at 11:29 AM on November 22, 2000 calls its "shopping cart" a "wheelbarrow." There's nothing like obfuscating the most critical portion of the purchasing process out of some suit's desire to be "cute." Every site has usability issues.
posted by fleener at 11:30 AM on November 22, 2000

Loooooooong sigh. Can we just all please share the sandbox already?

Usability isn't dead, Design isn't dead, Information Architecture isn't dead, Branding isn't dead, and Programming isn't dead.

They all work together as PARTS of the WHOLE. The web is still relatively new and a lot of us began as generalists. We were just "web designers" and wore all the hats at once because we had to, and now we're getting specialized -- but these are all inter-related facets of the same discipline. AlertBox would suck a little bit less if it had even a drop of Boo's design sensibility, and Boo wouldn't suck so much if it had paid attention to Usability and IA issues. Etc. Etc. Etc. ad nauseam. "Web Design" is best served by a discussion between all of these parts that eventually achieves a consensus and a balance that is ultimately pleasing for the Users, the Money, and the Makers -- it isn't served by dogmatic fighting. So stop, please. See what you can learn from each other instead of bickering about who sucks more. < / rant>

Enjoy your holiday, if you're having one....
posted by mimi at 11:53 AM on November 22, 2000

The fact that Val Casey's portfolio site is absolutely unviewable in my version of Netscape (v4.72/Linux) speaks volumes about her design aesthetic.
posted by waxpancake at 11:54 AM on November 22, 2000

Linux sux max rulEz
nader! nader! nader!
on holiday now
have fun stop fighting
posted by mimi at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2000

Usability is not dead. Usability overrating is what should be. It has a place, and "web art" has its place as well. They don't have to be exclusive issues from each other. Having the right amount of each for every assignment is an exercise in common sense that every web developer should do with through thinking.

There are hip web shops like Kioken that pride themselves on doing whatever the hell they want and have a if-you-don't-like-it-fuck-off attitude, but at the same time hold a theory -which I can relate to- that treating web users as morons is overrated. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat when dealing with a web's UI that people can respond to, without having to fall into the deadly sins of mystery meat navigation.

Of course, UI faces different levels of complexity depending in the assignment. Many e-commerce sites just don't give much thought to their user UI - and a bad navigation leads to a lost sale (there are other factors too, like crappy customer service, but it seems no one notices those)

posted by betobeto at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2000

Where is she saying that usability is dead? Sounds to me like she isn't against usability itself, just against the "usability uber alles" crowd.
posted by harmful at 12:16 PM on November 22, 2000

Never mind. Found it, where she says three or four different contradictory things over the space of a paragraph.
posted by harmful at 12:19 PM on November 22, 2000

The quote above -- "there's no merit to focusing entirely on usability" -- is something I've heard from Usability people themselves. For most of us, it isn't all one thing or the other but, as mimi and betobeto suggest, a balance.
posted by leo at 12:50 PM on November 22, 2000

waxpancake, it doesn't really matter that you couldn't get to Val Casey's portfolio site. As she says:

It's survival of the fittest. If a site is too confusing for people to use, then it's going to go away. People aren't going to come back to it.

I suppose that's one way of teaching.

posted by idiolect at 1:17 PM on November 22, 2000

Mimi summed it up perfectly. It's a *balance* thing. Y'know, like Yin & Yang.

The nature and flavor of the balance must necessarily arise from what type of site is being discussed, and the idiosyncrasies of the site itself. No two are alike.

Usability, beauty, and level of hot technological "cool" will vary tremendously based on such things as: size of the site, maturity of the site, subject matter, goals of the creator, budget (both time &/or money), commerce vs. fun vs. info, and the intended target audience (particularly the level of technological savvy, but also language, age, education level, etc). And of course, many more.

Being ugly but usable will get you by, but no one will love you for it. Being beautiful but unusable won't get you far at all, and being cool without being either usable or beautiful will just get you pointed and laughed at, or ignored. Well, by me, anyway.

This stuff should be obvious, I feel ridiculous even typing it out.

The goal should be elegance, a melding of a meeting of the various needs of the site in an appropriate and balanced fashion. This is true of pretty much any type of design (industrial, architectural, etc). Imho.

Any extreme is going to get you into trouble - Great Leader Nielsen's "Usability Uber Alles" included. But we need those people out on the fringe, even if we don't go all the way with them. Can you imagine how hideous things would be if we didn't have Jakob smacking people over the head with the Usability clue-stick?
posted by beth at 1:59 PM on November 22, 2000

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