Jakob Nielsen sent out an AlertBox today about blog usability. Specifically, he outlines 10 usability atrocities commited by blogs. Alas, even I, the aspiring HCI professional, did not make it through the article without a couple issues applying to me. In this entry, I’m going to try to correct my usability errors; I hope my blog feels more usable as a result.

While I think that most of what Nielsen says has merit, I think it’s based on three assumptions: (1) what we are doing now is correct for usability, (2) there is no better way to achieve usability, and (3) usability is all that we care about.

It’s the third assumption that I find to be the most compelling, and it’s one that I’ve struggled with for a few years now. As I completed my undergrad studies, a lot of my work with Dr. Jerry Wagner at One Innovation Place was built around the idea that the experience matters; and at times, the experience was promoted in front of usability. I’d go home with a feeling of pride to show my business-oriented family, who would say, “That’s cool, but I would never use something like that in a business setting. There’s no time to play around at work.”

I find myself continuing to strike the right usability chord this semester as I TA the Writing for Multimedia course here at CMU. One student mentioned today that he was going for a piece that conveyed chaos, and the ideas being tossed around had to do with alphabet soup (words form from the chaos of letters? I thought it was interesting). I suggested turning off the hand icon for clickable items in the soup – but that apparently went too far. Chaos is one thing, but chaotic usability is apparently unacceptable in any context.

Nevertheless, I don’t think that the line is absolute. I think the mystery behind the Donnie Darko website lends to the mystery behind the true interpretation of the movie. J. K. Rowling’s website turns off the hand icon for all clickable objects; instead, highlighting the ones she wants you to know you can click on, and letting you explore the rest freely. If we are trying to portray the idea of chaos, why should usability be spared from experiencing it?

When it comes to usability, I think it’s important to know the rules, because only then do you start to get a feel for when to break them. The results aren’t always pretty, and sometimes they just fall apart. But other times it’s about conveying a different message. Returning to the blog example: Yes, it is a fact that short, direct titles convey the meaning of the post better. But referring to the reason I created this blog, it wasn’t to show off my massive skills in usability creation (and believe me, I gots da skillz). It’s for me to have some fun… and titles like “Blog Usability” don’t cut it as much as “Rendezvous With Super Glue.” Plus, it’s like my friend Jennifer D. Ng said: If your audience is really interested in reading, they’ll look past the title, even if it’s completely absent.

(Oh, and for those of you new to the blog… do you feel like you know Jenn better because I used her full name instead of just her first name? I think Nielsen’s point there might be a stretch; by linking to Jenn’s blog, I think I give enough information about her without having to use her full name to avoid “being in high school.”)

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  1. On October 18th, 2005 at 6:28 pm, Jenn said:

    I can’t believe you linked my full name. GAH. I SHALL BE FOUND MY FUTURE BOSS!!!! :p

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