A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Consulting, Usability and Calling a Spade a Spade

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Jakob Nielsen is hugely respected authority on usability. I subscribe to his “Alertbox” email newsletter, I’ve read his books, and I’m definitely a fan. But two of his recent posts caught my eye, and not in a good way.

In August, he posted this:
Twitter Postings: Iterative Design

In the post, Nielsen outlines the process through which he and his team took an adequate but not optimal Twitter posting they were considering to promote one of their usability conferences and improved it.

5 “designs” later (remember, this is text.) they have a much punchier, shorter version that is without a doubt a huge improvement over the earlier versions. (Though there are some claimed improvements that seem open to question, but that’s fine.)

I’m not taking issue with the end results – it’s better, no question.

Nor am I questioning the value that someone with good usability experience. After all, that’s part of what we do.

But it really bugs me when consultants adopt the “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bs” approach. If anyone should be confident enough in his authority to speak plainly about what he’s doing, it should be someone with the stature of a Jakob Nielsen.

So let’s call this what it is: Editing. Not design, not usability consulting. Editing. Editing from a usability perspective, but editing.

His other post that came to mind when I read this? It was from July 6th and it was called Building Respect for Usability Expertise.

Mayb it’s my overactive sense of irony, but if we speak plainly about usability, take the opportunities we get to point out that it’s not some stand-alone discipline but is an important part of a Website’s copy, graphic design, navigational structure and information architecture, we’ll get more respect for an incredibly important part of every project’s success.

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