Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The myth that Jakob Nielsen is always right

Jakob is a swell cat. He offers up tons of useful information about web design on a regular basis, and for that, I’m grateful. But today, he’s just dead wrong.

Today’s Alertbox article is called “The Myth of the Genius Designer”. Sadly, it’s crap.

The whole article leads up to the following three points:

“To summarize:

1. For a good starting point, get a good designer.
2. To reduce risk, ensure that your designer works from usability data, rather than guesses.
3. To improve quality, use iterative design and polish each round through usability evaluation.”

... Jakob’s third point is also problematic, because it implies that great designers don’t iterate. In my experience, all great designers iterate. It’s extremely rare that a perfect design (if there is such a thing) magically appears in a designer’s head so that he can simply document it and call it a day. What happens far more frequently (like, all the time) is that a designer starts with a hunch, turns it into a design, and iterates through it repeatedly until he’s able to sleep at night. He doesn’t stop until the design is as good as he thinks it can be. A great designer is obsesssed with making the design perfect, and he has an accute understanding that perfection is hard to come by. It’s not a given, it’s earned.

Yes, these designs can and should be validated somehow. But usability testing doesn’t always provide the answers, and it’s entirely unnecessary to run a usability study on every project. Great designers know when to rely on patterns and standards, and when to avoid them and do something new. They know how to create something makes sense in the first place. They know that the innovative stuff might benefit from some usability testing, but that the standard stuff is probably a safe bet as long as it’s implemented well. They apply good design principles and create things that solve most of the potential usability problems in the first place.

Jaokb is right that great designers get that way by studying the succeesses and failures of designs. They get that way by doing the work, learning from it, studying user behavior, and so on. And a great designer will continue doing this throughout her career. But she certainly doesn’t need to evaluate usability data on every project. That’s just a waste of time and money.

What Jakob is right about is that great designers are uncommon, and it’s unlikely one of them works for you. But if you have someone you believe would step up and become great if given the chance, make that person a design dictator for a while and see what happens."    (Continued via rhjr.net)    [Usability Resources]

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