With a wealth of sensible knowledge and practical experience in the field of internet usability, I find it unusual that Jakob Nielsen’s website is so awkward to use. I can’t remember when I first came across his website, but one thing is for sure it left me feeling a little disappointed. His content is king, but the context is weak. It is quite difficult to take his opinions on usability seriously when his own website doesn’t practice much of what it preaches. I understand that I must thread carefully as I do not intend to offend anyone. However I think Nielsen, more than anyone can appreciate the good intentions of a thoughtful critique.
For me, the primary issue is in regard to the hierarchy of information. The landing page offers little in the way of guidance; the visitor is left to calculate what they assume to be important. Immediately the visitor is required to spend longer than necessary working out what they should look at, read, then act upon. There is a 50:50 tension between Permanent Content and News Content; an equal balance which can cause a degree of choice paralysis. When the visitor is presented with many choices of similar significance it can stifle their decision, or happiness with such decisions. See Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice. I understand the implication of Schwartz’s talk is slightly different, but the underlying point still remains. The more options we are given the less satisfied we are with our final choice; as it is easy to imagine that we could have made a better decision. It is the responsibility of the usability expert and content creator to guide the visitor on a journey through their website; to create a story.
There is no conventional navigation on this website, and as a result this has forced a lot of unnecessary content to the homepage. By including a top navigation we can hide some of the additional information, which the visitor can then easily access when required. This way we reduce the clutter on the homepage allowing the visitor to focus on the content which really matters.
After carefully examining the content of Permanent Content and News Content I set out to establish a workable relationship between the two. The redesign is based on a 12 column grid, where the Posts take up the majority of horizontal space with 7 columns and the News Features area controlling 4 columns, with 1 column of nothingness between each area. It is now clear what content belongs to Jakob Nielsen’s website, and what content belongs to 3rd party websites.
Further to the resizing of section areas, I also made the decision to remove dates from the Permanent Content entries as by definition their permanent status nullifies the need for a date. On the contrary, I have included a date-stamp in the News Features area, as I believe it is important for the visitor to understand when exactly the news was news. An email subscription call-to-action has been placed below the Posts area as well as at the end of every individual post entry. This was simply designed on a hunch that those willing to scroll (read) are more interested and thus more likely to subscribe than those who don’t even make it that far. However, without proper A/B testing one is basing such decisions on loose considerations. Below Posts I have formatted Reports, Film and Books in a similar manner; these three areas link to significantly less content on useit.com and other domains.
The single post entry is designed on the same 7-1-4 grid structure. The content is now limited to the current post as well as 3 other related posts. With a line length of about 75 (in comparison to 110) characters, it should make for a more comfortable on-screen reading experience.
The search page now uses Google custom search, as anything is better than what was there.
Finally, I would like to finish up by saying this critique was an exercise of opinion which I could not have fully conceived without following through with a design.