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Interview with Jakob Nielsen

John Simkin

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There is a fascinating interview with Jakob Nielsen in todays Technology Guardian:


Here are a couple of answers that I think teachers should consider:

TG: Sites like MySpace are hugely populated by savvy younger people still developing a sense of design. Do you feel that sites directed towards young users are failing to teach them best practice?

JN: If a teenager is just making a page for their three best friends, then these guidelines aren't relevant. You can put a pulsating heart on the page, make it play your favourite song - these atrocities would be the kiss of death for a mainstream website, but here it's a case of personal expression. It is OK for somebody's MySpace pages to contradict everything we know about usability because they're purely self-expression.

We have to get through to them that the way you communicate among yourselves is different from the way you communicate with other people. This goes back to the school system, which needs to explain the different ways of communicating in different media. If you wrote a job application like your MySpace pages, you'd be out of work.

TG: So is there room for talking about these issues in the classroom?

JN: There was a study done at the Open University found that in elementary schools, for every £100 spent on books, students grades improved by 1.5% - and for every £100 spent on computers, grades improved by 0.7%. So books are twice as good as computers for this ... So it's not necessarily that I should study history by clicking on some web pages, but that we should teach about these electronic media forms and how to use them. The value of that education would be immense.

TG: Have you seen any significant changes in the way people use the web?

JN: General behaviour is very search-dominated. You go to your favourite search engine, type in two words and click on the first few results. Users spend one or two minutes and then decide where to do their business.

That has been a big change. Search has changed from being something that's somewhat useful to being something that works surprisingly well. People do tend to only type in two words, and two words is a very minute and impoverished description of a human need. But search engines can - most of the time - pick four or five sites that you actually want. Because people have experienced that it works, this has become their number one behaviour.

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