Sunday, May 5, 2002

Jakob Nielsen Breaks It Down

Hompage Usability's coverA sample spread showing a study of the use of space on About.comA sample spread showing a breakdown of's layoutJacob Nielsen, the unofficial web usability guru, has his fans and his critics. While I do sympathize with Nielsen's love of rules and order, I'll be the first to admit that I disagree with his almost draconian insistence on their universal application. That being said, his and Marie Tahir's recent book Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed, gives us a whopping 113 usability rules to consider as they break down 50 of our most popular and oft-visited website homepages.

No site is safe. Favorites of mine, such as and Yahoo found their homepages under Nielsen's notorious scrutiny (and not always flatteringly). For each site's homepage the authors provide fascinating breakdowns and pie charts detailing the use of screen space. They mark just about every feature of the site, no matter how small, and explain in general terms how it could be improved or – rarely – why it exemplifies good web usability.

Why homepages in particular? To paraphrase Nielsen and Tahir, your homepage is your face to the word, your office lobby, your magazine cover, your brochure, table of contents, storefront, and receptionist. It's the page where you either make it or break it with site visitors.

It's a fascinating read, for web-heads and the Internet-laity alike. We devoured it here at Cloudjammer. Our only criticism lies in the author's blanket application of "the rules". For instance, the authors insist that every homepage needs a tagline to tell uninformed visitors what the site, or the company behind the site, does. 95% percent of the time, I'm right there with them. Flipping through Homepage Usability, however, I couldn't help but grimace when GM and Victoria's Secret's sites were condemned for failing on this rule. fb

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