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Why Jakob Nielsen's Windows 8 critique is old-school thinking


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#1 Asrokhel

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 17:36

Commentary: The usability expert branded Microsoft's new operating system "disappointing." But his approach would lead to the kind of incremental improvements that have dogged Microsoft for years.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was once asked what market research went into the creation of the iPad.

"None," Jobs replied, in one of his most celebrated quotes. "It's not the consumers' job to know what they want."

I was reminded of that when I read usability guru Jakob Nielsen's recent criticism of Windows 8. Having studied "12 experienced PC users" fiddling with the new operating system on both PCs and Microsoft's new Surface tablet, Nielsen found the usability "disappointing."

There is a litany of concerns, but the biggest seems to be that Windows 8 is too unfamiliar. He notes that with both the new touch interface on the Surface and the traditional Windows desktop, "(u)sers have to learn and remember where to go for which features." And he says that the lack of "pseudo-3D or lighting model to cast subtle shadows that indicate what's clickable" reduces the ability to discover applications and information.

I'll leave it to others to decide whether 12 experienced PC users is a large enough sample size to gain meaningful insight. The bigger question to me is whether Microsoft should pay too much heed to any users at all.

The problem with watching people try any product that's undergone a significant change is that they will struggle. It's human nature. We'll always be more comfortable with something that's familiar. Jobs understood that, which is why he put so little stock in market research. That's why the notion that users should be able to grasp the new Windows interface right away is a recipe for incrementalism.

"It's a very old-school approach to usability," said Tom Hobbs, the creative director at the Seattle design firm Teague and an interaction design specialist.

Microsoft, a company often tarred for its lack of innovation, wasn't shooting for incremental improvements with Windows 8. The software giant embraced its new tile-based user interface for Windows to leverage its operating system hegemony to compete in new world of tablet computing where Apple's iPad is dominant.

"For Microsoft to support incremental change around a new paradigm would be suicide," Hobbs said.

For its part, Microsoft said it conducted usability tests in more than 127 countries, refining the operating system to one where users can find the information most relevant to them. And in a recent video reported by longtime Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott, Jensen Harris, director of program management for the Windows User Experience Team, acknowledged the need for a significant shift.

"Resting on familiar is the way to mediocrity," Harris said in an August presentation to user experience designers.

Nielsen told me he's not advocating modest product evolution. That has its own set of problems.

"Every time you do incremental change, you acquire crud," Nielsen said.

Former Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy famously labeled Windows as a "hairball" for all the code it amassed over the years in the name of modest improvement.

"At some point in time, you've got to make a break from the past," Nielsen said. "But you can't do it very often. That's why it's so important to make sure you get it right."

His research and analysis tells him that Microsoft didn't get it right this time, and that Microsoft should have put out one operating system for tablets and a separate one for PCs. Then again, Nielsen's research and analysis led him to pan the iPad's usability when it debuted two years ago, noting inconsistencies in the way different apps work. Of course, that didn't stop consumers from snapping up the device in eye-popping numbers.

None of this is to say that Microsoft has created the perfect operating system. Windows 8 has its flaws. Teague's Hobbs agrees with Nielsen's criticism of the potential for errors when using gestures with the tablet version of the operating system. And he thinks that the animation that announces new information, such as a news story in a specific app, can be overly distracting. Indeed, some analysts have already soured on Windows 8's prospects.

"I don't think they've got it all right by any sense," Hobbs said. "But I'd argue that Microsoft is doing some of the most interesting user interface work on the planet."

That got me thinking of another Jobs quote.

"The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste," he said in the 1996 PBS documentary, "Triumph of the Nerds." "They have absolutely no taste. And I don't mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don't think of original ideas, and they don't bring much culture into their products."

People can differ on whether they think the new Windows 8 user interface is worthy. But, for a change, Microsoft seems to have a distinct point of view.
















http://news.cnet.com...chool-thinking/


#2 Wakers

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Posted 21 November 2012 - 17:55

Much of that critique was based on the principle that "if something that is familiar to people is changed, they are no longer familiar with it and therefore it has poor usability." - which I found (and I did many usability studies during my degree and A levels) to be a rather farcicle idea. I was certainly never taught to include that in usability reports, indeed it was cited as the wrong way to do such a report - intuitiveness should not be judged on it being familiar, it is how long it takes a new user to get to grips with it.

Going by the above familiarity law, then any innovation would be poor from a usability standpoint. The introduction of touch screens to start phones would have been one of the biggest usability disasters in recent memory because it completely altered the way that people interacted with their phones. All sorts of new gestures had to be learned, people had to learn how hard or soft they needed to touch the screen in order for it to register and so on. They had to find where to access the on screen keyboards, how to change between text input and etc.

#3 Growled

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 04:36

If he had given a glowing report of Windows 8 he would have been a genus. Windows 8 has potential but it also has some poor design ideas. Shutdown on Windows 8 is a good example of a poor design idea.

#4 zeke009

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 04:56

This guy just highlighted that people prefer gradual change that they don't notice, they rebel against immediate change they have to adapt to because "they don't have the time".

I have nothing to back that up, it's my own opinion from being in the corporate IT world. I'll never forget being yelled at by a woman who broke down in tears because Excel 2000 was upgraded to Excel 2003. If she could have hit me, I think she might have. Some people at work have lit me up over Windows 7 and my involvement with the project as one of the PM's because the GUI and Start Menu are different.

The more I get yelled at, the more I believe people just don't like change if they notice it right away. If it is gradual we adapt to the small changes and life goes on. Win8 is a massive visual change for some and they are not happy campers.

#5 Shane Nokes

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 04:58

Just also have to toss out that Nielsen's website is a piece of crap from a usability standpoint...which tells me his sensibilities are crap to begin with.

Note I don't hate him...but his site is just bad.

Also there's a point where he flat out lies when he says that there is no way to use multiple Windows in Windows 8. Note he's not talking about Metro. He's talking about the OS altogether...which is a flat out lie.

#6 Knive Party

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 06:26

yup, someone with common sense. Windows 8 UI is complete garbage, obviously MS didn't bother to actually use their product and making sure it has correct and balanced UI design, its all just giant text or giant coloured tiles everwhere you look, complete garbage. Honestly can't believe their UI designers are so incompetent to even think for a second that W8 UI is ready for the market, it needs so so so much work still done. Everything he mentioned makes sense 100%

#7 nohone

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 07:05

If he had given a glowing report of Windows 8 he would have been a genus. Windows 8 has potential but it also has some poor design ideas. Shutdown on Windows 8 is a good example of a poor design idea.


No. If he had given Win8 a glowing report he would be forgotten to history because no web site would have written about him. Write about some guy that nobody ever heard of, has a poor history of usability design, and likes Win8 - nobody cares. Write about some guy that nobody ever heard of, has a poor history of usability design, and dislikes Win8 - instant goldmine in ad revenue for sites like neowin and the others.

#8 Fahim S.

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 00:32

No. If he had given Win8 a glowing report he would be forgotten to history because no web site would have written about him. Write about some guy that nobody ever heard of, has a poor history of usability design, and likes Win8 - nobody cares. Write about some guy that nobody ever heard of, has a poor history of usability design, and dislikes Win8 - instant goldmine in ad revenue for sites like neowin and the others.


I wouldn't describe Nielsen as 'unknown' - you'd know him if you knew more about HCI research and some of the work he has done in the space. That said I don't agree with him as this is a fact of life with modern UI design. For example the notification drawer on Android and iOS isn't immediately apparent but people still manage just fine. I think people are becoming moor tech savvy and less afraid to explore.

#9 exotoxic

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 00:44

Just also have to toss out that Nielsen's website is a piece of crap from a usability standpoint...which tells me his sensibilities are crap to begin with.

Note I don't hate him...but his site is just bad.


No it isn't. It is clearly laid out and categorized, it takes no thinking to work out how to navigate or read so that makes it good.

#10 Fahim S.

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 00:48

No it isn't. It is clearly laid out and categorized, it takes no thinking to work out how to navigate or read so that makes it good.


It certainly not the most visually pleasing site in the world.

#11 Shane Nokes

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 01:35

No it isn't. It is clearly laid out and categorized, it takes no thinking to work out how to navigate or read so that makes it good.


No, no it doesn't.

Just because it is plain text doesn't make it great for usability.

If that was the hallmark of usability then almost all sites would be designed that way...like they were in the mid-90's.

His site is just a collection of links and text. It's simple, but simplicity isn't the only element of usability.

He relies entirely on the concept of folks knowing what they can and cannot click, without proper visual cues.

It is a study in what not to do.

#12 hagjohn

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 01:42

If he had given a glowing report of Windows 8 he would have been a genus. Windows 8 has potential but it also has some poor design ideas. Shutdown on Windows 8 is a good example of a poor design idea.


How hard is it to hit the power button? It's how it should have been designed from the beginning.

#13 Sandor

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 01:57

No, no it doesn't.

Just because it is plain text doesn't make it great for usability.

If that was the hallmark of usability then almost all sites would be designed that way...like they were in the mid-90's.

His site is just a collection of links and text. It's simple, but simplicity isn't the only element of usability.

He relies entirely on the concept of folks knowing what they can and cannot click, without proper visual cues.

It is a study in what not to do.


Think you might be equating usability with visual appeal a bit too much there.

#14 Active.

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 02:34

He relies entirely on the concept of folks knowing what they can and cannot click, without proper visual cues.


Yeah, if only there was some well-establised visual cue for indicating a hyperlink that he consistently used on his site.

-> some more info (and an article) on why his site looks the way it does.

#15 Shane Nokes

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Posted 23 November 2012 - 03:54

Note what he says there. He designed in the 90's and other than changing from : to > he hasn't done much.

His site was bad back then, and it is still bad now.

I won't bother arguing beyond this though since evidently what I say doesn't matter.