Jakob Neilsen isn’t a web designer

From someone’s comments on a previous post –

From Anonymous:
I have found Nielsen to be the most overrated web site design “guru” out there. I read his book “Designing Web Usability” and found it to be pretty far from what I would consider good advice for a web designer, at least in the library world. Maybe if you’re designing a site for the movie “Troy” or some other site for entertainment, Nielsen is the one to turn to. I’m not pointing to specifics, admittedly, but as everybody seems to fawn over Nielsen, I needed to stand up and say that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Actually, I’d call it a case of trying to stuff the emperor into farmer’s clothing. Annonymous doesn’t like Neilsen’s ideas – that’s fine. No problem there. But from the comment, I’m not sure this person understands what Neilsen does. Neilsen doesn’t do Web Design – he does Usability. I find the two concepts to be very different:

  • Web design – making a nice-looking website, involving graphics, colors, content, css and other standards, etc.
  • Web usability – making sure that people can use the website.

Neilsen really focuses on usability. Even in his articles about web design mistakes, he mainly discusses usability issues. Now obviously, a usable website will probably be a well-designed website. But from the above comments about Neilsen’s web design book, it seemed to me that the concept of web design vs. the concept of usability could get sorta mangled – because Neilsen usually doesn’t talk about CSS positioning, Flash-enabled layouts, or drop-down menus. Instead, he focuses on making what you have placed on your website into a very usable website – so website visitors can find information quickly and painlessly, and get on with their lives.