Designing Web Usability

Designing Web Usability

Users experience the usability of a web site before they have committed to using it and before making any purchase decisions. The web is the ultimate environment for empowerment, and he or she who clicks the mouse decides everything. Designing Web Usability is the definitive guide to usability from Jakob Nielsen, the world’s leading authority. Over 250,000 Internet professionals around the world have turned to this landmark book, in which Nielsen shares the full weight of his wisdom and experience. From content and page design to designing for ease of navigation and users with disabilities, he delivers complete direction on how to connect with any web user, in any situation. Nielsen has arrived at a series of principles that work in support of his findings: 1. That web users want to find what they’re after quickly; 2. If they don’t know what they’re after, they nevertheless want to browse quickly and access information they come across in a logical manner. This book is a must-have for anyone who thinks seriously about the web.


  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: New Riders; 1 edition (December 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156205810X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1562058104
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (243 customer reviews)
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  1. I agree with other reviewers, Jakob does present his ideas as Rules You Must Follow, rather than observations or suggestions. On a few things, he offers no data to back up his assertion, and on a couple things I know he’s factually incorrect. I also agree that there are a lot of typos in this book, but only if you’re observant.
    However, what he does present is just great. I like the writing style. I like the example images. For example, when he says to design for “any” screen size, and then shows you 3 screenshots of Web sites that lock themselves into a certain size, that certainly illuminates how stupid some designers can be.
    One other point. Jakob is writing for usability, about how people get information. He pays no attention to marketing issues, such as branding, creating product interest, giving the customer a memorable experience, entertainment, etc. It is fine that he concentrates on other areas, but know before you buy the book that you will have to make up you own mind in those areas (at least). For instance, site reports from the Web site I work on show that any time I throw a DHTML “whiz-bang” widget onto the site, the area it is promoting gets a doubling to a quadrupling of traffic. That flies in the face of his “don’t use whiz-bang features” philosophy. But I’ve learned that his data and my data don’t always agree. So take Jakob with a grain of salt.

  2. Nielson’s book offers a straightforward and intelligent presentation of web design with a keen awareness of the big picture and what actually happens when users visit a web site. All times the practice of simplicity and ease of use are emphasized in page design, navigation, content and overall web site development.
    The book is heavy (literally!) with high quality color printing featuring hundreds of web sites to illustrate each of the points discussed. This could be regarded as a serious textbook that takes a deeper cut into the art and science of effective web site design than the more amusing (and also valuable) reads such as “Web Pages that Suck.”
    Nielson addresses such issues as users with disabilities, the global nature of the web and the implications of multilingual sites, the use of metaphors, and the numerous other issues including download times, URL design, graphics, streaming video vs. downloadable video, site structure, color and text design, and so on. The book really “gets into it” and does not shy away from the nitty, gritty details, using its large quantity of illustrations to fully address each point. While it comes across as heavy handed on some occasions (“Do it this way”) where an experienced web designer may see alternatives, this detail provides a great introduction for those new to web design.
    This one text effectively captures the most significant topics associated with designing effective web sites that will accomplish the task at hand. Reading it will put the overly zealous gif animators and latest plug-in proponents in touch with the world of the average user. Given some of the hideous web sites I’ve seen even from Fortune 500 companies with large web development budgets, Nielson’s book is a voice of reason and intelligence in an area where hype and flash can cause people to lose sight of their objectives.

  3. Desigining Web Usability is, overall, an excellent book. I agree with one of the previous reviewers who stated that if you are a seasoned Web designer/developer there is not a ton of information here that is new. But it is nice to have it all in one place and so lavishly presented. The production value of this book is very high and is itself an example of excellent information presentation (albeit in the print world).
    The book is especially good for those new to Web site design and usability. I have seen all too often how graphic designers or especially marketing types and executives new to the Web insist on designing a Web page THEY like instead of one usable for the intended audience.
    Overall you may not agree with everything Dr. Nielsen says but if you take the basic principles to heart your Web pages will be much better. A key principle is that just because a page looks good does not mean it functions well. Dr. Nielsen will show you how to do that.

  4. In reading over the reviews it is easy to find people who are quite hostile to what Nielsen has to say and it’s easy to understand why–he insults and threatens their very approach to web design. Nielsen’s message is really quite simple: web sites should be constructed for the end user, not to demonstrate the skills and ego of the designer. Unless you are designing a site that is intended simply to demonstrate the breadth of your abilities, designing is not about fun–it’s about taking information and making it as accessible as possible for your end users. It can be fun, but your own enjoyment shouldn’t be the purpose.
    In Designing Web Usability Nielsen does an effective job of demonstrating ways in which you can help your users to move through your site efficiently and accurately. Individual sections may seem seem somewhat self-evident, but taken as a whole these sections add up to an impressive amount of information.
    Of particular interest are chapters 4: Site Design, and a section in chapter 3 on writing for the web. In the section on site design he discusses issues such as using navigational cues to orient the reader to where they are, where they’ve been, and where they can go, and different types of organizational schemes. As a technical communicator I found the section on writing for the web particularly relevant. Put simply–most people do not like to read online. You have a second or two to grab their attention and only a bit longer to hold them there if they are intrigued. Relevant information needs to be placed front and center and should be foregrounded through the effective use of headings, bulleted lists, etc. This section does a good job explaining how to do so.
    None of this is to say that Nielsen is without fault.Read more ›

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