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