May 9, 2001
11:55 AM   Subscribe

I've been very disappointed at the lack of Jakob-bashing in recent weeks, so I stopped by useit to see if he had actually stopped being a dope... Nope!

"Two years ago, I predicted that poor intranet usability would cost the world economy $100 Billion in 2001. I just computed a current estimate of the cost of poor intranet usability for Business 2.0 magazine. Surprise -- the result is exactly as predicted: $100 Billion lost per year."

Does anyone else find it fishy that this guy is being asked to verify his own predictions?
posted by o2b (34 comments total)
i predict i will have first post in this thread.
posted by jcterminal at 11:58 AM on May 9, 2001

I predict that Jakob will lose the rest of his hair.
posted by solistrato at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2001

I'm immediately skeptical about that fact that he did the current estimate himself. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Good for business, no doubt.
posted by Hackworth at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2001

I predict that I can make any number up to justify any claims I make, so long as it is unverifiable.
posted by tj at 12:13 PM on May 9, 2001

There certainly isn't anything in the article to suggest the methodology used. Other than his hat.
posted by dhartung at 12:27 PM on May 9, 2001

dhartung, his hat isn't where he pulled that number from...
posted by jpoulos at 12:37 PM on May 9, 2001

But he's still right about web design.
posted by jfuller at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2001

OK, now let's allow the people who have evidence that Jakob's analysis was wrong have a turn to speak.
posted by fleener at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2001

no one's saying he's wrong... while i find his numbers unbelievable, i have nothing to disprove him.

there's just something hinky about singing your own praises when your predictions come true because of your own analysis.
posted by o2b at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2001

OK, now let's allow the people who have evidence that Jakob's analysis was wrong have a turn to speak.

That argument would make sense if Jakob had presented any evidence that he was right.
posted by jpoulos at 1:13 PM on May 9, 2001

If Jakob doesn't sing his own praises, who will?
posted by cCranium at 1:26 PM on May 9, 2001

Evolt just put Netscape (Mosaic) 0.4 in the Browser archive. Google works, Useit.... doesn't. And I smiled at that.
posted by mimi at 1:31 PM on May 9, 2001

Most of these forecast numbers are pure, unadulturated BS. For example, "Researchers are pulling their numbers out of thin air based on hot air".
posted by andrewraff at 1:40 PM on May 9, 2001

As sometimes happens, Nielsen rests a good point (poor intranet usability) on a questionable base (fuzzy math estimates about "lost productivity"). Anyone going to mention that infamous Oracle ad?
posted by tranquileye at 1:51 PM on May 9, 2001

oh hey. how about that.

my prediction was right.
posted by jcterminal at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2001

Can the anti-Nielsen venom be explained to me? I've been watching the whole thing for about a year now, and can't figure why he seems to be so loathed. I read his book and it seems like common sense to me....
posted by owillis at 2:29 PM on May 9, 2001

Designers like to think they are all geniuses who live above the rest of the population. Jakob tells these people that what they create must be something the average Joe can actually use. But, no, they don't listen.
posted by Erendadus at 3:13 PM on May 9, 2001

Jakob, Jakob, Jakob.

Hating Jakob is a good thing, for a zillion and one reasons (I'm actually surprised when someone doesn't know why he sucks, it's been talked about for so long).

I'll try to touch on the main points that motivate Jakob bashing (rightfully so in most cases), and no, I'm not a flash-using-black-turtleneck-wearing-tattooed-shaven-head-hardcore-artist-that-hates-jakob-just-because-he-doesn't-like-my-600kb-flash-intros, I think most flash use is overdone, poorly implemented, or just a bad design choice in many cases, but it depends entirely on the situation.

- The first time I started getting annoyed with him, it was due to him parroting common knowledge. When you work on web pages for a couple years, you start seeing patterns, you start talking about those patterns, and you start writing about those patterns. He seemed to have a knack for taking obvious statements and trumpeting them as loud as he could, and many of them became attributed to his infinite intelligence, when I felt it was shared knowledge a lot of others worked on.

- he doesn't just make statements, everything is a fucking grandstand event. He's Moses on the hilltop, grandstanding his common knowledge and everyone must listen. It gets old after a while, when you see bold statements made purposely to ruffle feathers and create controversy (I'll admit this is my weakest point, but if you've had to listen to him and his supporters for as long as I have, you'd be tired of it too).

- He constantly (in his book and on his site) makes black and white statements (in a grandstanding way) of absolute jakob fact. Anyone that's worked on the web knows that almost any "rule" is variable. If you asked Jakob 4 or 5 questions about how web pages should look or work, chances are every answer would be either "yes" or "no" - ask the same questions to a seasoned web developer/designer/programmer and you'd hear 4 or 5 answers of "it depends."

Is all Flash bad? No, in some cases, it can be beautiful and not replicated any other way. Should all links be blue and underlined and all pages be white? Jakob would say yes, but many others would argue it depends on the site's audience, the site's goals, and the site's purpose.

I'd go so far as to say at least 50% of the "rules" and "guidelines" he comes up with in his book are absolute horseshit, or at best, only applicable to e-commerce sites used by the general AOL using public in the year 1999 (he constantly assumes users must have everything plainly shown to them at all times, when many users are savvy and technical and can learn over time).

- He wants us all to agree on guidelines for webdesign (his) so we can come up with hard and fast rules. In his world of absolutes, it's probably possible, but the web is far too young, far too varied, and far too worldwide for anyone to come up with more than a handful of rules, and he'd prefer if we had hundreds.

- whenever Jakob makes claims of fact, they are often unfounded, and usually based on little-to-no statistical data. When he collects his own data, he doesn't fully describe his methodology or offer all his actual datapoints. He's not good at doing references properly in data and statistical contexts.

When I first got into web design, I was leaving a heavy statistical data minded scientific community, and I knew then what I know now, as a scientific researcher, Jakob is terrible.

If I think for a while longer, or go back through his site, I can come up with more, but I think those are the highpoints.

Grandstanding common knowledge. Constantly making statements as if they are absolute fact instead of describing the circumstances in which it may be true (because it depends). Bad statistical techniques, poor data references, and poor descriptions of methodology, which if taken together would make many of his "proven" statements wrong or at least under question.
posted by mathowie at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2001

Whoa! We can say ‘fucking’ and ‘shit“ in Metafilter? Well, fucking shit!

While I'm at it, he's a me-too post: I couldn't agree with you more, Matt. Nail on head, as usual.
posted by Danelope at 4:01 PM on May 9, 2001

Matt, great dissertation. My two big beefs with Jakob (besides the "there's only one way and it's mine" attitude) are these:

Jakob talks about creating ONE pathway. He says that that path is the most intuitive path for the user. But which user? My mom would perform and action or navigate a website totally differently than I. So let's pretend just for a second that this path takes care of 80% of the users. These are invariably the beginner users or at least those unfamiliar with your site. The problem is that that's not static. Those 80% become intimately familiar with the site and slowly creep towards the 20%. Next thing you know, you have a 20/80 rule in effect instead of an 80/20 rule. When that happens, you have alienated all of those who put in the time to learn the site/software navigation. People quickly find that they are bumping into the walls of your limited design.

The second problem that I have with Jakob is that his dogma is too black and white, which invariably means that it is too easily adopted by those who don't know any better (Now, with 100% less thinking required!). This is the cause of the dreaded "Polyjakobasia" disease (aka "What would Jakob Nielsen do?" syndrome). After reading jakob's book, now even your auto mechanic can tell you that your style sheets are interfering with your users' experiences.

Jakob Nielsen has firmly established himself as the ultimate placebo for the weak-minded.
posted by fooljay at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2001

Seems to me even though a lot of these things are "common knowledge" there are a lot of designers, sites, etc. that don't follow them. Consistently on the web I see poor navigation, and confusing interfaces - even someone like myself who I consider pretty tech savvy goes to sites sometimes and say "where the hell am i? why can't i click on that? where the heck do i go next?"

Shouldn't someone make some noise about it?

I dunno, maybe I identify with him because I'm pretty binary myself. Absolutes, on/off, and so on....
posted by owillis at 4:20 PM on May 9, 2001

All these debates over web design could be ended if we all agreed to just one rule:

Any designer who hides the most basic links of their sites (about, archives, etc) behind mouseovers that contain irrelevant graphics and inscrutable, but "cool", words, should be taken out and shot.

Thank you.
posted by aaron at 4:26 PM on May 9, 2001

Oh no! Not another capital punishment thread!
posted by kindall at 4:49 PM on May 9, 2001

owillis, yes, for many/most general interest sites, a consistent, clear navigation scheme is key.

I'm not discounting everything Jakob has ever said, but a lot of his ideas could use some work and his delivery could definitely be better.

By the same token, I hate hearing designers say "jakob sucks" without backing the statement up.

So yeah, I couldn't agree more with both Aaron and Oliver, I hate not knowing where you are on a page, or having to decipher that "inspiration" = links to other sites, but I'm not sure if taking everything jakob says on face value is any better. There is (and has to be) a middle ground where clear layouts, intuitive navigation, and non-irrating graphics are king. But everything depends on the situation. I want travelocity, webvan, and amazon to have the easiest to use interfaces as possible (and they do for the most part), but I would expect to work a little harder to find the 'next' link in a {fray} story.

It all boils down to "it depends" but I've never heard Jakob say it.
posted by mathowie at 4:49 PM on May 9, 2001

If a printing "useability expert" came along and said that all magazines, for example, should be designed and printed according to some set of absolute rules that were the RIGHT way to design magazines, anything else being a MISTAKE, regardless of audience interest, knowledge or expectation and regardless of the actual content or purpose of those magazines, would anyone listen to them (other than for novelty value)?
posted by normy at 6:04 PM on May 9, 2001

haveto throw in 2 cents... to Matt: amen brother!

Jakob is generally seen by most who don't completely believe in his *ahem* works as an arrogant fool.

Personally, I'd like to see a steelcage deathmatch with him and David Siegel
posted by tj at 6:18 PM on May 9, 2001

as a guy who has been taking licks on mailing lists for having anything nice to say about Jakob - I'll say amen to brother owillis for saying, what's the big deal?

a few weeks ago I put a thing on my own site that I intend to write my own lil' pundit piece on how appreciating jakob is not a crime - and I'm getting hate mail already!

jakob's got shit to say, some of it's good. just like any of the other web pundits with strong opinions. some of it's pearls, some of it's shit.

it's not like we have an edward tufte for webdesign who we can all agree rocks. we have many midgets. name a web pundit, and there's giant controversy around that person.
posted by artlung at 8:46 PM on May 9, 2001

normy, there was someone that said magazines should all follow his rules and his name was Roger Black (and look where he is now - saying many of the same things about the web and being laughed out of the most design/developer circles).

Joe, I understand what you're saying, like I said, he does have good things to say, and he's the most visible person saying them, it's just his delivery and punditry I hate.
posted by mathowie at 10:40 PM on May 9, 2001

> If a printing "useability expert" came along and said

that magazines with smelly inserts or a heap of blow-in cards annoy three-quarters of the people we tested, or that magazines that do not have an easy-to-find table of contents within the first couple of pages were rated "a pain in the ass" by the majority of the people we asked, I would think that was potentially useful information. Even designers with great talent and experience should be reminded now and then that, for example, a cool-looking car is still a piece of crap if the driver can't find the door handle without turning on the lights and fumbling around for it.

Jakob is sometimes hated because he tells people who believe they are designers of genius that he thinks they're often making big mistakes, and because he gets frequent and widespread credit for being the Moses of web design while others moil in the gloom over their little web pages like anonymous monks transcribing their lives away among cold stones and silence.

I like what he tries to do even when I don't like how he trumpets his results. At work, I use his authority in the business world to help me convince utterly gormless corporate web and software designers that they must fix huge design mistakes. When I don't agree with him, I just ignore him. His greatest failing is his misomusy.
posted by pracowity at 1:33 AM on May 10, 2001

Matt - I don't begrudge you the things you hate about Jakob at all. It's the folks who decide - well, Jakob can be a jerk, so screw *everything* he says. Which is a conclusion which reasonable people I think would not make.

And the thing I think has been *best* about Jakob is that he has brought attention to an aspect of design for the web which is important - usability.

Usability is not a dirty word, it's the very essence of enabling lots of people to get stuff done on a website.
posted by artlung at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2001

Say it with me folks: "pseudoscience"

Come on..."soooo-doe-sie-ince"

That's what Jakob preaches.

Basically, he doesn't tell me anything I can't figure out on my own and that's why I stick my fingers in my ears and say "I can't heeeeeear you!" whenever Jakob opens his self-indulgent mouth. I don't pity Jakob, I pity the multimillion dollar companies who pay him thousands of dollars for his "advice".
posted by Succa at 7:56 AM on May 10, 2001

I believe that anyone getting mad over what Nielsen has to say, or simply wants to say, is being infantile.

If you think what Jakob says has no value, then why even bother listening. If what he says is so-called "common sense", remember that's the least common of the senses. If you can figure it out on your own, then do that, re-invent the wheel. If you don't know that rules are meat to be broken, well, now you do. But learn too that the rule about breaking rules is that you must know what the rule is before you can break it.

The guy may not know more than you and I, but he markets himself better, doesn't he? Do you hate him because of that? Oh grow up.

Web developers need more awareness of usability principles, not less. If you build web sites and haven't learned, then Nielsen, Krug, Tog, are all good teachers for a beginner. But you are building the Web, you are intelligent, you will learn that there's more to building a site than their "rules", you'll become wiser, not pay attention to their grandstanding. You'll know the rules, and -only then- you'll know when to break them.

As I said, Jakob-bashing, or Jakob-adoring, is so infantile.
posted by tremendo at 11:25 AM on May 10, 2001

> If a printing "useability expert" came along ...

Print works conform as much as possible to guidelines about use of contrast, alignment, consistency and positioning. The whole point is to enhance communication, and a great aid is to rely on some basic predictability: rules. Of course you want some unpredictability too, but you don't put a table of contents on page 136, or page numbers in the middle of the right margin, or flow columns right to left. You follow some rules or fail.

Look up there, above this page, you have a menu, it starts with File, Edit, View, jump to another app, and another, chances are high the first three menu options will be the same. A few programs break these rules, and their usability suffers because of that (one of the few problems I have with the Opera browser, is that it moves the Back button to the middle of the toolbar, instead of being the leftmost button).
posted by tremendo at 11:59 AM on May 10, 2001

I believe that anyone getting mad over what Nielsen has to say, or simply wants to say, is being infantile.

Ha! Not if Jakob is actually the direct cause of my major headaches it isn't. Jakob consulted for a company I worked for. I won't say too much because I don't want to indict anyone specific, but Jakob didn't like what we had because he declared that it would confuse the new user. While this may be true, with his solution in place, all we would have was new users because anyone who ran a few sessions would quickly become an ex-user. (example: What would happen if Jakob redesigned Photoshop?)

This is a clear and concise example of how the 80-20 rule doesn't work.

What's worse, one of my collegues, who had oh-so-little web experience, glommed on to Jakob's words as if they were from the mouth of God, carried his book around like it was the Holy Bible, and started acting like one of the annoited apostles. Higher cognitive abilities be damned! This person had there thinking done for them and which freed them up to think about more important things--like where they were going to go clubbing that night.

If I heard "Well, Jakob says..." one more time, I would have been forced to stuff my sock puppet straight down his gullet.

Unfortunately, it was my mess (and a few others) to clean up. Had Jakob left a little wiggle room in his grandiose edicts, or actually taken some time to understand how our visitors actually USED the site (which I think, really, should be the first step in doing usability consulting...duh), we might have all been a happier bunch and this collegue of mine would not have been fooled into putting himself into a position where he would be severely ridiculed as an idiot majeur.
posted by fooljay at 3:56 PM on May 10, 2001

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