Monday 23 February, 2004 ( 3:09PM GMT)
Here's the thing: the easier something is to use, the more likely it is that someone will use it and so the more successful it should be.
It seems to me that a great number of web designers roll their eyes at the sound of Jakob Nielsen and use terms such as 'Nielsenist' or 'Nielsenism' in a jokingly derogatory way, often implying that following Nielsen's advice will lead to something that is unnecessarily extreme and usually uninteresting to look at. That Nielsen's own site looks like a close relative to Teletext doesn't help.
The thing is, useit.com does its job spiffingly - ultimate web usability is over-the-top zero-graphics uninteresting to look at pages that load like lightning and take the user straight into the content. But most of us have to live in the real world - a world obsessed with image.
Visual appeal is a necessary 'evil' that is very important to the success of a modern website and it must have a carefully arranged marriage with usability.
There are certain aspects of the HTML Dog redesign that have probably hindered usability to a tiny degree, in particular the graphical header and logo but the idea is that although usability has been compromised slightly, the end result is something that should be more successful long term (as discussed recently). On the other hand, the CSS file has been reduced by around 25% and many graphical elements have been pulled out so pages should load even faster and in that respect usability will have been increased.
Building web pages with web standards has one massive (often unintentional) advantage - it heightens usability. This is because structured HTML with a dollop of CSS will lead to lighter, faster pages than old-school methodologies. I'm not the only one who has talked about rebuilding existing web pages and reducing file sizes by around 75%, leading to a web page that is four times quicker to load. Web standards should also lead to greater consistency in design (from a central CSS file), better reliability and much improved accessibility.
Personally, I think that usability is the single most important element of web design. Web design isn't just about technology and art, it's about psychology.
And having said that, in many ways Nielsen is like Freud - many may lambast him, but the fundamental principles that he has championed are commonplace and applied by practitioners as second nature.