Prioritizing Web Usability: Book Review

For one reason or another, usability is not often looked at as a topic of interest for many people. One reason may be that the material is often full of statistics and quite dry. The fact is, however, that the usability of any website can make or break it. No one will try to use a confusing website simply because the Web is so huge, they would rather look elsewhere. Usability is always becoming more interesting to me, and books like Prioritizing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger help to push that interest along.

Putting usability into perspective can sometimes be difficult. Much of the success behind the Web’s most successful online retailers can be attributed to their site’s usability. Making people feel comfortable purchasing things on the Web can be a daunting task. While online purchasing is often the subject of many studies, usability on the Web far extends the reach of any e-commerce website and has effects on each and every project you’ll work on as either a designer or developer.

Prioritizing Web Usability Book Cover

I try to read as many books on the subject as possible, as usability isn’t something that can have strict rules surrounding it. Observation, reaction and adaption are general themes surrounding usability in that results are completely dependent on each person who finds their way to a site you put together. Some other notable books I’ve read on the subject are Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug and Defensive Design for the Web by Matthew Linderman with Jason Fried. Both books were very well written and I think of them as great resources for me to have. Prioritizing Web Usability is quite different from those books in that all of the data is supported up by years of usability tests and the statistics that go with them. Jakob Nielsen is perhaps the most recognized name behind Web usability and in my opinion, he definitely deserves the title. Many people speak of Jakob as being difficult to read among other things, but I find his work to be quite interesting and quite applicable to my daily work.

The details of Prioritizing Web Usability

Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger have really put together a resource that belongs on any designer’s or developer’s bookshelf simply because there are still many prevalent pitfalls included in modern site designs. These problems can usually be fixed easily in a relatively short amount of time, and the effects can be of great advantage to future visitors. The authors go into great detail behind the reasoning for many fall backs still causing frustration to readers. Time is taken to explain just how their test data was gathered and over what time frame. Specifications about the users was also included along with just about any other relevant characteristic about the test subjects.

The book provides extensive screenshots and other details about specific test sites, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, which can help you as a designer or developer to make more effective websites. You may recall that Jakob wrote a book on the same subject some time ago (“Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity” published in December 1999) and many of the points he raised then are still very applicable today. That definitely says something about the subject. The Web is a constantly changing medium, and to have any patterns continue in similar fashions for 7 years is quite uncommon. The authors are sure to compare and contrast the remaining problems with those that are new, and gage the severeness of each based on their seriousness and how common they are.

It’s difficult to get into the details of any particular chapter of this book, as I wouldn’t know where to stop and would want to rewrite the entire book. All in all I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in the business of the Web as it really gives insight into current problems that are still prominent around the Web. The only way these problems will see their way out is through education of the people behind site design and development.