Usabilty celebrity Jakob Nielsen has been the go-to authority on everything web-related for some time now. I have seen him in Boston, San Francisco and Amsterdam (I think). I have purchased, and been reimbursed for, several of his books. He’s a funny guy and a lot of laughs at seminars and yet I believe I am done with our friend. I think his principles have all been disbursed. I think, no matter what the future holds for us as web developers, he has said all there is to say on usability. I also can’t take his site anymore.

When I burst onto the web scene many years ago (I made myself laugh right there), Mr. Nielsen was a real help, and I appreciated his simplistic website and even understood his obvious dislike of designers. Websites in ’97 were full of (let’s face it) obvious mistakes, and having a guru to quote helped justify your design choices when dealing with clients.

When I saw Mr. Nielsen in the states, he was pretty charismatic as I recall, but like a Keanu Reeves movie, left me with a weird, empty feeling afterward. I was left to wander around Boston, wondering what I had actually learned and where I had heard all of this before. I realized, like every other customer, that I had read all of this in one of his books weeks earlier. He was like a traveling rock star playing a few hits but primarily supporting his latest record. I think it was Designing Web Usability or Homepage Usability, Deconstructing 50 Websites, or some geeky tome. You could spot the usability dorks moping around Boston that night, with our brightly and efficiently designed soft cover Nielsen books and our regret.

I then was asked to go overseas to another seminar and I’m under the impression that this was Amsterdam. No swaggering pot café joke here. It was simply a while back and most of these pleasant-enough European cities look the same to me. I remember pale, grim-looking residents walking by my hotel briskly. They never blinked as I recall. The seminar was nearby and our host was in an absolutely jovial mood. I arrived late and was caught off-guard by a discussion of hilarious American websites, such as The Americans had the absurdity to put tires and washing machines on the homepage together. To the international user, Jakob said, this was funny because it looked as though a car dealership also sold washing machines or something. After an hour of this, the cackling turned to restlessness and I saw my opportunity to quietly grab some complimentary meat product and leave.

Like all good blog posts, there really should be a point eventually and I’m circling in on one. I received an alert from Jakob Nielsen today titled The Myth of the Genius Designer. I opted in for these alerts and although I rarely give them a full read, I did today. Essentially it says that genius designers do not make usability testing unnecessary. That’s terrific. Upon further reading, I find some useful links to studies/data. The first one I click through to read costs $129. The second useful link takes me to where I can buy another book of his at a 31% discount. The third (and final, for me) attempt to grab some useful info is a $118 pdf and that seals the deal for me. This laughable website, although to some almost as charming as its creator, is simply a revenue stream. I have my own personal usability study for Mr. Nielsen. When I want the data that backs up your study, having to stop that flow to fight through the purchase of an overpriced pdf is probably going to steer me in another direction. Perhaps I’ll write a longer “study” and make it available for a couple of hundred bucks as a ppt.

If you’re industrious enough, you will make it to the bottom of the alert where you’re greeted in the highest contrast allowed by your monitor to a three-day camp on usability at the Usability Week 2007 conference in San Francisco in June.

I have no doubt that it will be an initially popular week. Me, I’m off to the next A List Apart seminar I can schedule.

About the Author
Tom McCormick
Tom McCormick is the head of the Brick Factory's design department, overseeing all of the company's creative work. In that role, Tom consults with clients to design websites that are beautiful and functional. He only writes blog posts that have something to do with football, probably because he is a Redskins fan and needs some kind of catharsis after they lose every week.