Overpaid, anal-retentive web usability expert
November 23, 2000 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Overpaid, anal-retentive web usability expert puts himself out of a job? Or perhaps engages in second-round of funding to maintain astonishing levels of frankly unfathomable self-publicity? You might think so, but I couldn't possibly comment.
posted by barbelith (26 comments total)
I looked all over for the 222 guidelines on the NN site -- figuring maybe I could get a copy for myself so as to cash in on this consultancy gig thing -- but to no avail. Did anyone at the (apparently sparsely attended*) NYC "event" find them by chance nailed to the door?
*I mean, even the Adobe LiveMotion launch attracted a larger crowd.

posted by leo at 6:27 AM on November 23, 2000

I think Jakob has realized that if he keeps charging the exorbitant rates to reveal his secrets, there's still only going to be a handful of companies paying for the info. The rest of us will figure out usability ourselves, and when all this design controversy settles out Jakob will be largely forgotten.

Jakob isn't satisfied with being rich and famous anymore - he wants to be remembered. He wants his name to ring through the halls of e-media design schools 50 years from now. This book is his shot a writing himself into history.
posted by alex - f at 7:29 AM on November 23, 2000

Nielsen: "I would never claim people should do 100% of what I say, though 90% would probably be a good goal."

So, 10% of the things he says really don't mean anything, even to him? Why would he say something if he didn't expect people to follow his advice?
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:30 AM on November 23, 2000

Y'know, Neilson does do an important job. Useability's a vital aspect of web design, and no, not every page has to be white with 12-point sans-serif text and headers and 15-item-and-no-more-dropdowns and whatever the latest alert box is, but by being so goddamn vocal and anal-retentive, he makes us aware that these are issues.

I could easily argue a point about Zeldman being (underpaid, probably :-) anal-retentive about standards, and except for the fact that anal-retentive has such negative connotations, I don't think anyone would really argue with me, least of all Zeldman.

Of course, I've waitied 'til he's on vacation to use him as an example and therefore unable to argue his own merit, but such is life. :-)

To browser developers, Zeldman's just as much an annoying pain in the ass as Neilson is to designers, because they both demand that before creative freedom take free reign, a consideration (and implementation! mustn't forget implementation :-) of standards is followed.

And Neilson really is only promoting standards, most of which have been elements of UI design since there were UIs to design.

Sometimes those loudmouth bastards we all wish would just shut up (uhh... sorry Zeldman. :-) are actually fighting the good fight. We remember what they say because they take it to such extraneous extremes. Extremists are an important part of any community, because they revel in radical ideas, which the middle-ground types can then pick and choose from to create good things.
posted by cCranium at 7:35 AM on November 23, 2000

alex - f: He wants his name to ring through the halls of e-media design schools 50 years from now.

Wasn't that the game plan for "Designing Web Usability"?
posted by leo at 7:44 AM on November 23, 2000

Jakob bashing gets old quick. It says more about your maturity than your skill as a user-centered web designer. The 90% rule simply means that good designers know when to break the rules.
posted by fleener at 7:58 AM on November 23, 2000

When did Jakob become the new Dave Winer of Metafilter?
posted by alana at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2000

Jakob bashing may get old quick, but so does Jakob boosterism. Zeldman said it best after his slashdot Q&A, design is full of uncertainty, humans like answers. We naturally gravitate to someone who offers us hard and fast rules rather than promoting uncertainty.

Jakob's rules and writing seem to be more about promoting Jakob than any desire to improve the web. I suspect that if the web were to change significantly in tone or technology his rules and writing would lose all relevance. Much like how we don't generally read David Seigal's writing much anymore.
posted by captaincursor at 10:08 AM on November 23, 2000

Jakob's pulling a John Perry Barlow - he's releasing a bunch of his ideas for free with the hope of getting more work from the exposure. And companies that like his secrets will be much more likely to pay him to spend a day explaining how to apply them to their company site.

It's like Jakob shareware. It's Jakob mp3's released so you'll buy the full Jakob CD.

His schedule is going to explode with $10,000 consulting days and $30,000 hour long speeches as a result of this move.

His opponents should take note (however, he also benefits from his short-sighted proclamations like "all links blue! all backgrounds white! - it's just easier to package simple statements like that. People never forget simplicity, even if it's bad advice).
posted by mathowie at 11:13 AM on November 23, 2000

Funny though, he lays out these ideas, some designers cry foul, and the world keeps turning. There are very few designers laying out 'rules' in a concise and to-the-point manner that designers *and* managers can understand. Frankly, it's to Jakob's advantage to have you go on and on about him because it only increases his name recognition. He's laughing all the way to the bank with a sharp piece of marketing. And, also understand, there are plenty of people that think his ideas are right on the mark.
posted by fleener at 11:55 AM on November 23, 2000

I suspect that if the web were to change significantly in tone or technology his rules and writing would lose all relevance.

That would have to be a dramatic change. His rules and writings are based on some 16 or so years of research and development into the way humans interact with computers, and the basis of our interfacing - the GUI - isn't going to change all that dramatically as long as we're inputting use a keyboard/[mouse|trackball| tablet/pen|any pointer device] combination.

Scroll bars, icons, drop downs, text boxes, all these UI widgets will get refined, certainly, but they're still basically the same widget they've been for years.

Even WAP devices use the same fundamental widget set.

And of course he's about self-promotion, that doesn't automatically invalidate his arguments. Certainly take everything he says with a grain of salt, maybe add his suggestions to your bag of tricks. It's a big bag, there's room for lots of tricks in there.

Also note that by him causing discussion, we as designers have a reason to talk about these elements and their importance, thereby furthering our own education in these matters.

I could easily go on about free (as in speech, not beer :-) information in this context, but Matt's summed everything up much better than I could.
posted by cCranium at 12:17 PM on November 23, 2000

fleener, I agree. I suggest that everybody just get over Jakob.

He annoys, because that's what self apointed-gurus do for a living. I think he has been influential on improving design, but his basic points are very basic, it ain't exactly rocket science.

Also I think he's publishing his "secrets" now and moving onto mobile comms, because the web usability area has been done to death.

posted by lagado at 3:59 PM on November 23, 2000

Um, he's not GIVING them away on the net --- he's selling them on the net: for $45 a pop as PDFs for each of nine volumes. Or, the bargain price of $400 for the whole shebang as a full-color book.

I think ol' Jake's sitting around saying things like: "Hey, these suckers'll pay me $10,000 a day, let's see if they'll cough up 400 bucks for my next book! In PDFs! Ah, ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

I'd really like to know how many people are going to cough up that much for his pronouncements. I'll bet it's an alarmingly large number.
posted by sjarvis at 8:21 PM on November 23, 2000

Q: How many web design companies actually listen to what Jacob has to say? From what I have seen, it looks like his audience is the companies who aren't into web designing.

I would like to see what the guys over Kioken or Razorfish have to say about Neilson's tips.
We all know that the K10K baldies don't like him, and yet they manage to create sites that push the limits of design yet are fairly usable. K10K even has page where the visually impaired can "read" their news.
posted by riffola at 9:24 PM on November 23, 2000

The election of 2000 was decided not on questions of policy or character, but usability, proving that I was right all along about the evils of unfamiliar and overelaborate user interfaces. Oh yes. In this matter, I have concluded that it is now insufficient simply to browbeat everyone into buying the book, and so will offer my services to a needy nation (at a substantial discount on my usual consultancy rates) in 2004.

posted by lagado at 10:16 PM on November 23, 2000

Lagado, you didn’t need to put that photo of him here, did you. It’s bad enough when I go to peterme and if see that picture of Jakob, now here on metafilter. Please no more Jakob photos.

I can’t believe anyone would pay him $10,000 a day. There are plenty of good web usability books, if you want to know what he thinks go to useit and print out his old weekly lectures. I will wait for someone to put up a pirated version. Then I will take a look.

Some of his advice is good, but most of it is commonsense. Don't make a website to difficult, you must build for someone with an IQ of 80. Let 5 or so people (who have never seen the site before and preferably non-web people)test your website observe their behaviour and make the necessary changes.

posted by jay at 1:20 AM on November 24, 2000

Wow, that picture's just creepy. "One day, I will rule the United States! Then, the world!"
posted by billybunny at 6:14 AM on November 24, 2000

Much like how we don't generally read David Seigal's writing much anymore.

I thought that he got out of the web guru business several years ago.
posted by rcade at 6:44 AM on November 24, 2000

Siegel is alive and well, but he's no longer promoting single-pixel GIFs. His newest work seems strangely similar to the ClueTrain Manifesto. He found religion.
posted by tremendo at 8:22 AM on November 24, 2000

Jay, that's the interesting thing. Yes, most of what Jakob says is common sense... and yet, there is a need for it to be said because graphic designers (as a whole) have not taken the time to learn how the web differs from print media. There's a common saying among designers that 90% of web sites are poorly designed, but whoever is saying that at the time will not admit they are part of the 90%.
posted by fleener at 9:40 AM on November 24, 2000

lagado: shouldn't you credit the Nielsen 2004 site with a URL?

(I would, but given that I had a role in its creation, that would count as self-linking...)
posted by holgate at 11:10 AM on November 24, 2000

The thing that gets to me about Jakob is that most of his work is based on the assumption that users are either (a) on a quest for specific pieces of information or (b) trying to buy something. It makes sense that he would emphasize these uses--those are his paying customers--but that's only a portion of the web, a portion that some of us would argue gets too much play. If you want the web to be more than portals, corporate sites and e-commerce, you have to think about things in ways that Jakob just wouldn't approve of.

Case study: I actually tried to use his book as a (supplementary) text in my web design class, but a lot of it is just hard to apply unless you're in stores'n'portals mode. When my students tried to think about issues creating personal or community sites, or sites designed primarily for aesthetic or entertainment purposes, Jakob's advice wasn't wrong, exactly, but it was unhelpful. You can argue that most professional designers will be working in stores'n'portals mode, but to me that seems like simply giving up. Do we really want every site in the world to be espn.com? (Fill in your own straw man here.)

(By the way, has anyone looked at Steve Krug's new book on usability? It is "presented" by the also-annoying Roger Black, but it seems to boil down a lot of the standard web usability advice well, and in a less "do it my way or be dead" style.)
posted by rodii at 11:19 AM on November 24, 2000

[aside: holgate, I think it's been fairly well established that self-linking inside the thread body if it adds to the discussion is acceptable. You'll be told whether or not it's appropriate after the fact. :-)]

rodii: I don't think Jakob's really ever claimed that his useability preachings were for anything other than commercial sites, has he?

I'm certain I've read him saying there's a place out there for artistic web pages, it just isn't on espn.com. At least, it isn't if espn.com wants visitors to come back to the site.

Note that I really do enjoy art sites, and will often devote time to catching up what I've missed every time I hit, say Once-upon-a-forest.com or e-sheep.com (which I only found out about yesterday, unfortunately) they aren't pages that I consider "sticky."

posted by cCranium at 12:11 PM on November 24, 2000

cC: You're right, Jakob's pretty forthright about that (though he doesn't talk about "Why Frames Suck For Commercial Sites"). My point is that his style is increasingly being take as the True Way in general. Not exactly Jakob's fault, though his relentless self-promotion certainly feeds the fire.
posted by rodii at 12:33 PM on November 24, 2000

rodii: Is it though? I mean, look here, look at dreamless.org, look at other design communities. Sure, there's a nod towards what Jakob said, and most people are happy to acknowledge that what he says makes sense, but he's been (and will continue to be) derided by a lot of designers for quite some time.
posted by cCranium at 1:59 PM on November 24, 2000

It's kind of funny to me that Neilsen bashing has become the techno-webloggers equivalent of drop kicking a newborn puppy across the yard. Find someone new to pick on already, or are all you folks just jealous that he's come up with a good scam?
posted by Mr. skullhead at 8:17 PM on November 24, 2000

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