5 Things I've Learned About... Web Design: Less Flashy Is More Usable

Jakob Nielsen is a leading expert on Web usability and a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, a business design consultancy. When it comes to Web design, he believes less is more and is no fan of complex sites or flashy graphics that come between the user and the content.

Users are different from developers.

Anyone working on a specific design project knows too much about that system and its functionality. People on the outside don’t have this special knowledge and they know less about technology. Therefore, they will often have grave difficulties using something the project team thinks is “obvious.” The only way around this conundrum is to do user testing and find out how the intended users behave when using the system.

B2B websites are much worse than B2C sites.

We conducted a major usability study of 170 B2B sites. I was appalled at what we found. These sites are difficult to navigate and they rarely answer customers’ questions in a straightforward manner. I think the reason B2B sites are so bad is that they often don’t take orders directly on the site. Thus, site managers don’t know how many customers they are losing. In contrast, many B2C sites track their business value closely and they know that their sales go up immensely when they make their sites more customer-focused.

Most Web 2.0 trends are not that important for business sites.

They still need to focus on getting Web 1.0 right: helping customers find the products, describing them in ways that make sense and making transactions more seamless. Blogs are certainly proof of the basic argument of usability, which is that making things easier will increase their value.

I definitely want to get my hands on Apple’s new phone.

But I would be even more interested in getting a Japanese i-mode phone. I-mode has a lot of specialized services designed for mobile, and that’s what we need for the future. We also need a better screen and a gesture-based UI, which Apple is supplying. But without thousands of vertical mobile services, the iPhone will not be much more than a good-looking brick.

My pet peeve?

Cable TV boxes and all the other miserable user interfaces we have to suffer in order to operate a home theater. Try to count the number of remotes and buttons you’re given to support the simple task of watching a movie. I tried: I have 239 buttons on the remotes for my main TV and its associated boxes. We need a user interface standard for consumer electronic devices.

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