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Usability for kids

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Razib Khan
Monday, April 15, 2002

I very much dislike Jakob Nielsen's contributions to the world.  But, lest I be a no-facts flamer, here's why I feel this way:

First, this latest article.  He's stating the obvious, and claiming it's research.  "This just in - kids aren't too bright, and they like colors.  Film at 11."

Next, he doesn't even follow his own dated advice.  "People don't scroll!" he holds.  I scroll.  Even my mother scrolls, and she just barely mastered the fine art of using a mouse.  So, he claims that you shouldn't allow content to go beyond a screen.  His use of an ungodly big font on is a slap in the face, and quite hard to read without making a conscious effort. 

His lack of a straightforward navigation bar (is the left column supposed to be it? - I can't tell, and that's enough proof that it isn't) couldn't be labeled 'usable'.  You have to use the search box to find anything, unless you want to read every single word on that front page to see if it's there.

Most importantly, it is clear that Nielsen doesn't understand the web when you take a good look at his patents.  "Re-linking technology for a moving web site", "Internet-based spelling checker ", "Estimating the degree of change of web pages", "Method and apparatus for receiving electronic mail", and many other abominations make me cringe every time someone refers to him as a guru of any sort.

But, please, feel free to prove me wrong.

Patrick Lioi
Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Hi Patrik,

I agree with your comments about Nielsen, but maybe for slightly different reasons.

I think that in the early days of Usability Nielsen was a force for good.  He brought the subject to the attention of the computer world and he wrote well thought out articles based on empirical research.  If he was arrogant sometimes, this wasn't the end of the world - it helped him get his message heard.

However, now that usability is better known I think Nielsen is beginning to do more harm than good.  He is perceived as arrogant by many, and self-serving (using terms such as Nielsen's rules for usability).  He is also perceived by many as unwilling to listen.  He is making an easy target for those who want to knock usability work.  It could also be argued that he is a little one-sided, to him usability is everything.  Once upon a time, this viewpoint was OK as usability was nothing and someone had to fight to get it noticed.  Now, it makes much more sense to acknowledge that usability is just one part of what makes a good product and a good  user experience: marketing, technology, business model, usability, etc. 

I think Donald Norman presents a much more rounded view of what user-experience design is about and acknowledges that usability is only part of a bigger picture.

However, to defend Nielsen a little - at least his findings are the results of 1000s of hours of empirical observation.  He doesn't rely on theory, he actually sits and watches users and finds out (on average) what people do.  This, if nothing else, is useful data.


Tuesday, April 16, 2002

From the link:
Half of our young users were willing to read instructions; indeed, they often preferred to read a paragraph or so of instructions before starting a new game. In contrast, most adult users hate instructions and try to use websites without having to read about what they are supposed to do.

This is very interesting, and counter to intuition.  Is it age related?  Will they become less inclined to read as they get older?  Was the way we were taught to read at school so terrible that the majority of our genration was put of reading for life?  Have they learnt to read instruction from playing video games?

Ged Byrne
Thursday, April 18, 2002

Ged - I bet it's more likely that kids are in the mindset to read directions because directions are forced upon them day in and day out in school.  I bet when these same kids get older they'll grow out of that mindset, for better or worse, and start to assume they know what they're doing.

Patrick Lioi
Thursday, April 18, 2002


I think your right.  The implications aren't as profound as I first thought.

Ged Byrne
Thursday, April 18, 2002

I think it might have to do with kids getting more frustrated and lost if they don't understand things, whereas adults have more confidence in general when it comes to this sort of thing and they think they can figure things out for themselves.

Did he give a reference to the study that showed this? Perhaps they read the instructions because they were being watched.

Mark W
Thursday, April 18, 2002

Another theory along these lines stems from the e-book idea.  The idea is that children have grown up in a PC age and are more likely to be comfortable reading from a monitor. Adults, on the other hand, often print out web pages and read the hard copies.  I do this myself.

Also, it may be stress related. Adults' lives are often hectic, go-go-go. When I get on-line, in the back of my mind, there's always the thought that I've got a million other things to do.  So, I tend to scan web pages briefly, most of the time skipping over lengthly paragraphs.

Nick Hebb
Thursday, April 18, 2002

"Also, ... stress related. Adults' ... hectic, go-go-go. ... on-line, ... back of my mind, ... million other things to do. ... scan web pages briefly, ... skipping over lengthly paragraphs."

Isn't that one of Joel's laws, users don't read they scan. I think it's also one of Steve Krug's rules.

Check out "Writing for Readers who Scan"

and while you're at it,

Friday, April 19, 2002

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