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June 16, 2006

Logic + Emotion = Nielsen + Emotion

Recently David Armano, author of the Logic + Emotion Weblog, wrote a review of an excerpt of Jakob Nielsen's new book, Prioritizing Web Usability, that was published on Webmonkey. In the excerpt that was reviewed, Nielsen simply wrote about "Eight Problems That Haven't Changed." Armano, apparently having failed to read the entire book, agrees with some of Nielsen's points, but disagrees with others (in part).

The problem with reviewing an excerpt rather than the whole book is that Armano gets an incomplete picture. Had he read the entire book, he would know that Nielsen qualified his remarks and understands that adherence to his general rules will depend on the audience. For instance, on the subject of screen resolution, Nielsen wrote, "Remember, it pays to know your audience. These general trends may not accurately reflect your readership."

Elsewhere in the book, Nielsen suggests that following usability "best practices" (such as the eight rules in the excerpt) will solve only about 80% of your usability issues. As audience demographics, tasks, and motivations differ, the way developers approach them must differ as well. That is why Nielsen recommends usability testing on the audience.

Armano writes, "Sometimes pop-ups give an experience an advantage because they can frame content in a way that gets you to focus on it by stripping out some of the 'noise'."

"Sometimes," he says. But how would you know that this particular approach works with your audience, if you do not test it with them? And is it worth letting it go live on a site without testing, if getting it wrong could potentially tick off a lot of users, or otherwise get missed because of pop-up blockers?

Read the whole book, don't be afraid to experiment with innovative ideas, but you should always ask your audience--especially when you're going to violate the known best practices. The results may surprise you. - Cam Beck

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Comments

"The blog author, apparently having failed to read the entire book"

I read the Web Monkey article and feel that it is fair game to comment on the 8 points in the context of that article. That's why I listed the Webmonkey reference first".

"Sometimes," he says. But how would you know that this particular approach works with your audience, if you do not test it with them?"

I have tested for pop-ups in numerous usability tests, and generally users don't mind them if they have the control they need (this has been my personal experience)

"And is it worth letting it go live on a site without testing, if getting it wrong could potentially tick off a lot of users, or otherwise get missed because of pop-up blockers?"

I am an advocate for user testing. Period. For Grainger.com, we tested quarterly. PS, pop up blockers only work when pop ups come up automatically. When a user clicks on a link with a java pop-up that usually does not get blocked. I mentioned this in my post. In all the testing I've done, users don't mind pop-ups when they have an idea that they will get one.

"Read the whole book, don't be afraid to experiment with innovative ideas, but you should always ask your audience"

Not sure I have time for the entire book and again—that is why I did not position my post as a review of the book. I respect Jakob as I have mentioned in the post and agree about many things he advocates for. The post is my opinion based on being a practitioner of user-centered design.

I'm glad you read the post and thought enough about it to track back—and question things I've said. Hope my comments help provide some more context and appreciate the discussion.

-DA

Thank you for clarifying your remarks. I really do enjoy your blog and will continue to visit regularly. Most of your posts have me cheering on in agreement, but I guess it’s the other ones that motivate us to write.

For me, I am particularly motivated to defend Jakob Nielsen, who I think has unfortunately gotten a bum rap over the years. I never believed him to be under attack from your article, but I did want to add the pertinent qualifier into the debate, without which the “eight rules” (or Nielsen, for that matter) cannot be completely understood.

Keep up the good work!

Cam -- And so began your very stormy relationship with DA.....

(lol....)

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