TECHNOLOGIST
“It reminds me of papyrus”

The worst design sins to avoid, according to usability guru Jakob Nielsen.

BY Daniel Saraga
1 December 2014
MARKET

1. What’s the worst mistake in web design?

It’s the one-size-fits-all idea: that the same design can work on PCs, tablets and Smartphones. You really need to think differently for each one. Another issue is design concepts leaking from touch devices to PCs, like swishing, which is impractical without a touch screen, or the “hamburger” icon with its three lines that hides the option menu.

2. Tablets are held on your lap, like books. Could books be an inspiration for tablet functionality?

I don’t think so. Books are linear, which is good for mainly one thing: reading a fiction story on which you’re hooked and just want to go on. With digital ink, e-reader devices can be a good replacement, but they should not provide Internet access. Reading fiction should be immersive with no distraction.

3. What do you think of vertical layouts with long scrolling pages?

Often a bad idea. You never know when you’ll get to the end of the page, and you don’t get closure. It’s a strange throwback to linear story telling. It forces readers to keep going in one direction, instead of using the power of computing to let them select what they want. It’s an example of the mistake of feature underload: removing choice. It reminds me of papyrus, 2000 years ago.

4. Another sin?

The opposite, of course: feature overload. At some point, any extra button you add will confuse users. In surveys, people often say their first impression of a website is that it’s “busy”.

Recognized as one of the most influential web-design critics, Danish born Jakob Nielsen, 57, is founder of the NN/g consultancy in Fremont, California. He studied human-computer interaction at the Technical University of Denmark.