Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity

Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity

by Jakob Nielsen

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
While everyone wants to design cool web sites, no one wants to think simple and consider whether the design actually accomplishes its goal, which is usually to sell, teach, or entertain. The sole exception is Nielsen, who has made a living speaking and writing about what works and what doesn't work in interactive media. His simple, well-written, and well-illustrated book discusses web usability, page design, content design, site design, intranet design, accessibility for users with disabilities, international use, future directions, and simplicity. Buy more than one copy. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

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New Riders
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Voices That Matter Series
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6.72(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.76(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 8: Future Predictions: The Only Web Constant Is Change

The number of users will increase less rapidly because there are many countries where the infrastructure makes it difficult to get a majority of the population online. From about 200 million web users in the beginning of 2000, 1 expect we will get about 500 million people online around the year 2005; this number will reach a billion people sometime around the year 2010. Anything beyond a billion will be slow progress. It is completely unprecedented to have a billion users sharing the same computer system, and the Web and the Internet will be dramatically changed when this happens. In fact, they will have to change before this can happen because it is currently much too difficult to get on the Internet for most people to even try.

Long-Term Trends

In predicting the effect of technology changes, the two most common mistakes are to over-estimate the shortterm changes and to under-estimate the long-term changes. In the short term, many of the changes that technology experts would like to see do not happen because of human inertia. It takes a long time to get people to change their ways, and it also takes a long time to send out people in trucks to dig up streets to upgrade the infrastructure.

Many of the more fundamental changes do not happen until a technology has permeated society and has become ubiquitous. For example, the automobile is widely blamed for causing the rise of suburbs, but suburbanization could not happen fully as long as only a small percentage of the population had cars. Back when only a few people had cars, they might use them to go on weekend trips while living in the city, or they might move to suburbs, but they would keep a job in the city. As long as very few people had cars, any important company had to remain in the city, but once most of its employees had cars, it became feasible to move to cheaper and more expansive quarters in the suburbs.

The Internet is a networking technology, and the impact of networks grows by approximately the square of the size of the network because that's the number of possible interconnections and thus the possible uses of the network. This phenomenon is usually called Metcalfe's Law, after Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet. As an analogy, let's briefly consider another network technology: the telephone. Having a single telephone in a city is useless, and having two telephones is much more than twice as good: Now you can have a conversation. A typical early use of the telephone was for the owner of a company to have a phone at home and one at the office: Even with only two telephones in town, important conversations could take place.

Some time later, when a hundred company owners had installed telephones in their homes and offices, the use of telephony would have grown by much more than a factor of 100. A city with 200 telephones would see them used not simply for the bosses to call their own offices, but also for the offices to call each other. Because company owners would tend to belong to the same social circles, they might even have started calling each other's houses. Several years later, with many thousands of telephones in the city, use would have expanded to companies exchanging calls with their customers. And finally, once almost everybody had a telephone, the entire structure of business and socialization would change:You don't just call a company, you call a specific person within the company; pizza delivery companies happen; and teenagers spend hours on the phone.

Before turning to the trends for the Web in the next few years, I want to briefly look at some possible long-term implications of the explosion of the Web. Many of these changes may not happen for decades, and some of them may not happen at all. Also, of course, it is likely that unexpected changes will happen and will turn out to have more profound effects than any of my predictions. With these caveats, let's hear it for some possible long-term effects of the Web:

  • The real estate market crashes in overpriced areas like Manhattan and Silicon Valley. Because web technology allows people to work from anywhere and collaborate despite distance, nobody wants to pay five times the normal cost of a house to live in a densely populated area. Eighty percent of real estate valuations in the former centers evaporate.
  • Big corporations turn into shells of their former selves, mainly concerned with maintaining brand recognition while all real work is done by loosely coupled networks of virtual workgroups spread around the world.
  • The only way to react to the incredibly accelerated pace of change enabled by a fully networked economy is to change corporate management from a hierarchical command structure to a networked internal marketplace of ideas, skills, and projects. Annual budgets and vice presidents are out the door. After all, Stalin proved that five-year plans managed by commissars do not work for a country, so why should the same principle be the best way to run a company?
  • The concepts of career advancement and full-time employment disappear from the job market, to be replaced by the concepts of skill development and reputation building. The job market itself turns into a minor bump on the economy because less than five percent of the population holds jobs in the traditional sense. The rest of the population consists of independent contractors who are not employed by their customers. Indeed, they are each others' customers most of the time.
  • The Post Office is disbanded because A move
  • Government revenues drop to half their current level as a percentage of GNP because most value creation takes place online and is hard to tax (if taxed too harshly, services move to more friendly countries). This turns out not to be a problem, however, because GNP more than doubles due to the efficiency of the network economy...

Meet the Author

Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D. is a User Advocate specializing in web usability and a principal of Nielsen Norman Group (http://www.nngroup. com), which he co-founded with Dr. Donald A. Norman, former vice president of Apple Research. Until 1998, Dr. Nielsen was a Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer and led that company's web usability efforts starting with the original design of SunWeb in early 1994. His previous affiliations include the IBM User Interface Institute, Bell Communications Research, and the Technical University of Denmark. Nielsen is the author and editor of 8 other books and more than 75 research papers on usability engineering, user interface design, and hypertext. He is also a frequent keynote presenter at industry conferences. Nielsen is the founder of the "discount usability engineering" movement for fast and simple ways of improving user interfaces. Nielsen's Alertbox column about web usability has been published on the Internet since 1995 ( and currently has about 100,000 readers. He is also the usability columnist for Ziff-Davis Network's DevHead and a web design critic for Internet World magazine. He holds 46 U.S. patents, mainly on ways to make the Internet easier to use. Dr. Nielsen's website is at It's text-only and pretty fast.

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