Nielsen Norman Group was founded on August 8, 1998, so we’re now celebrating our 20th anniversary. While we may seem young compared to organizations like IBM (107 years old) or the Bank of England (324 years old), it’s rare for a UX company to be this old. Considering how fast the UX field has been growing, the UX field is now 55 times bigger than when NN/g started — and we trained many of the people who entered UX during this period.
For the story about how the company was started, I refer you to my article Nielsen Norman Group: The First Decade, which I wrote 10 years ago. We’re now twice as old, so it’s time for another look at how we’ve been doing.
20 Years by the Numbers
If nothing else, NN/g has produced. We have:
- Published 1,139 articles, amounting to a total of 2.2 million words. This is the equivalent of about 25 books — all available for free to the user-experience community.
- Served about 230 million page views. (This number amounts to 230 page views for each of the estimated 1 M UX professionals in the world today, though, since many articles must have been read by nonUXers, and since many page views were probably downloaded but not read, it’s more likely the average UX professional in the world today has read about 50 of our articles.)
- Provided 15 full research reports for free download, as an additional service to the UX community.
- Published 73 in-depth research reports that are available for purchase at fairly low prices, compared to the reports published by competing analyst firms. (And many other analysts typically publish shorter, less thoroughly researched reports.) Since we provide so much content for free, I don’t mind charging for some of the most detailed research, because the sales generate the funding for our independent studies.
- Published 11 traditional printed books (counting both editions of The Design of Everyday Things, but this book is enough of a classic to be worth counting twice). These do not include the 19 older books by NN/g principals, published before we started the company.
- Produced 120 videos on a wide range of UX topics on our video channel. Most videos are short, but they still sum to almost 7 hours of presentations made available as a free service to the UX community; about the same as an entire full-day course at our UX Conference. The channel has received 1.2 million viewing minutes so far: the equivalent of our audience having attended 3,400 full-day course presentations. (Since our video channel is new, these numbers will soon be more impressive: every month we rack up about as much viewing time as a typical student spends in classes for an entire bachelor’s degree.)
- Produced 28 on-demand online seminars, offering yet another media format to meet our goal of helping UX professionals learn when and how they want.
- Taught 44,283 UX professionals at the UX Conference.
- Awarded the UX Certification to 4,598 UX professionals who passed exams for the courses that they attended. (Since the UXC is a fairly new program, early conference attendees were not offered the opportunity to take exams, but I’m sure they still learned a lot.)
- Observed about 10,000 test users in person, interacting with an incredibly wide variety of designs, from primitive feature phones to immersive environments. (Plus thousands of additional participants in various forms of remote research.)
- Finally, we have helped hundreds of consulting clients with projects we can’t talk about — so no more about them.
Except for the consulting projects, all our research has been self-funded, which has allowed us to be independent for all these years — meaning that our articles, reports, and courses are not biased by third-party interests and tell the truth, based on empirical research with real users. We don’t have to say something because it’s fashionable, nor do we need to push clients toward a proprietary or trademarked solution that’s less-than-best practice. Whatever we say is what we believe is right, based on 20 years of observing users.
For each year, I list the articles (and videos, starting in 2016) from that year that continue to be accessed the most, according to the nngroup.com analytics data from recent years. I also note some of the main research studies or other events in certain years.
During the first decade, many of the most popular articles were about web design, whereas recently, the most popular articles tend to be ones about user-centered design methods and processes.
We started planning for our first international user-research project, to test a wide range of ecommerce sites. The dot-com bubble interfered with the plans and we got too busy with consulting, so the project wasn’t completed until 2001 when we published 207 design guidelines for ecommerce sites, based on testing 20 sites in 2 countries. After many more rounds of testing ecommerce sites (many more sites, in many more locations), the report was published in a revised edition earlier this year: now with 837 design guidelines for ecommerce user experience. The requirements for good design have increased by a factor 4 in less than two decades. (Using the number of UX guidelines as a rough proxy for what a site needs to do, designwise.)
Our first study of the mobile-phone user experience concluded that the WAP phones of the day had too miserable usability for us to recommend that most companies design mobile services.
Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users
Elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources. The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.
Dropdowns: Design Guidelines
Dropdown boxes and menus are overused and clunky but can be useful for revealing a list of options or commands. (Link is to an updated version of the article.)
Reset and Cancel Buttons
Most Web forms would have improved usability if the Reset button was removed. Cancel buttons are also often of little value on the web.
Flash: 99% Bad
Although multimedia has its role on the web, Flash technology tends to discourage usability for three reasons: it makes bad design more likely, it breaks with the web’s fundamental interaction style, and it consumes resources that would be better spent enhancing a site’s core value.
We conducted one of the world’s first usability studies with disabled users. While many others have done much prior and subsequent work on accessibility, we were unique at the time in watching how people with disabilities actually use websites and deriving evidence-based design guidelines for making this use easier and more efficient.
Finally, we released our first training video: on paper prototyping. (In 2001 we filmed in 480p which was considered good for the time. The old recording has now been replaced by a newer version, reshot in 1080p.)
113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability
Even small changes to homepages can have drastic effects.
Although measuring usability can cost four times as much as conducting qualitative studies (which often generate better insight), metrics are sometimes worth the expense. Among other things, metrics can help managers track design progress and support decisions about when to release a product.
Established wisdom holds that good error messages are polite, precise, and constructive. The web brings a few new guidelines: Make error messages clearly visible, reduce the work required to fix the problem, and educate users along the way.
We completed our first user research with young children (aged 3–12). After several more rounds of research with kids, the report is available in a much-revised edition with newer examples.
Going to the other end of the age spectrum, we also published a study of seniors as web users. (Also now updated with newer research.)
We also started studying the email user experience, something that very few others seem to be doing. But over the years we have kept testing both marketing emails and transactional emails (e.g., confirmation messages) and always have had interesting findings, because most firms don’t bother designing these right, despite their importance for long-term customer loyalty.
Top 10 Guidelines for Homepage Usability
A company’s homepage is its face to the world and the starting point for most user visits. Improving your homepage multiplies the entire website’s business value, so following key guidelines for homepage usability is well worth the investment.
Field Studies Done Right: Fast and Observational
Field studies should emphasize the observation of real user behavior. Simple field studies are fast and easy to conduct, and do not require a posse of anthropologists: All members of a design team should go on customer visits.
We finished a major study on best practices for recruiting test participants for usability studies: the resulting 190-page report is available for free download. We also published findings from early work on intranet portals (which later expanded substantially).
The Ten Most Violated Homepage Design Guidelines
There are ten usability mistakes that about two thirds of corporate websites make. The prevalence of these errors alone warrants attention, especially since they appear on sites with significant investment in usable design.
Information Foraging: Why Google Makes People Leave Your Site Faster
The easier it is to find places with good information, the less time users will spend visiting any individual website. This is one of many conclusions that follow from analyzing how people optimize their behavior in online information systems.
PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption
Users get lost inside PDF files, which are typically big, linear text blobs that are optimized for print and unpleasant to read and navigate online. PDF is good for printing, but that’s it. Don’t use it for online presentation.
Checkboxes vs. Radio Buttons
User interface guidelines for when to use a checkbox control and when to use a radio-button control. Twelve usability issues for checkboxes and radio buttons.
The Most Hated Online Advertising Techniques
Modal ads, ads that reorganize content, and autoplaying video ads were among the most disliked. Ads that are annoying on desktop become intolerable on mobile. (Link is to an updated version of the article.)
We completed a major research effort on how to write web content for lower-literacy users (about 40% of the population who can read, but not very well).
We also ran our first of several rounds of user research with teenage users (aged 12–17).
We started to see signs that Amazon.com should not be a role model for smaller ecommerce sites. Something that was confirmed 13 years later, in our most recent testing of ecommerce websites.
Scrolling and Scrollbars
Despite posing well-known risks, websites continue to feature poorly designed scrollbars. Among the ongoing problems that result are frustrated users, accessibility challenges, and missed content.
We ran our first eyetracking study, spending months in the lab with a finicky early-generation eyetracker. We have had several interesting findings from our various eyetracking studies, but sadly modern eyetrackers are only a little less finicky.
We also broadened our focus with our first user research with B2B websites.
Our first research on how to combine Agile development methods with user-centered design concluded that the best practice is to run parallel tracks for UX and programming. Our subsequent ten years of research into this problem has continuously derived the same conclusion, though we now have many additional recommendations in the popular full-day course on Agile UX.
Top 10 Application-Design Mistakes
Application usability is enhanced when users know how to operate the UI and it guides them through the workflow. Violating common guidelines prevents both.
How Little Do Users Read?
On the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.
OK-Cancel or Cancel-OK? The Trouble With Buttons
Should the OK button come before or after the Cancel button? Following platform conventions is more important than optimizing an individual dialog box.
“About Us” Information on Websites
We found a 9% improvement in the usability of About Us information on websites over the past 5 years. But companies and organizations still can’t explain what they do in one paragraph.
Whereas our report on mobile usability in 2000 had advised companies against designing for that era’s primitive phones, our 2009 study of mobile usability had a different outcome: the mobile user experience was much worse than the desktop user experience, but smartphones were now worth designing for, and we published a report with 85 design guidelines for mobile. The newest edition of this report has 383 design guidelines for mobile UX — a factor 4.5× more in 9 years, or a much higher growth rate in the requirements for mobile UX than what I roughly estimated for ecommerce websites (4.0× over two decades).
We released findings from a study of 23 nonprofit websites, confirming the need for attention to user experience even for sites that don’t aim to sell anything.
Mega Menus Work Well for Site Navigation
Large, rectangular menus group navigation options to eliminate scrolling and use typography, icons, and tooltips to explain users’ choices. (Link is to an updated version of the article.)
Top 10 Information Architecture (IA) Mistakes
Structure and navigation must support each other and integrate with search and across subsites. Complexity, inconsistency, hidden options, and clumsy UI mechanics prevent users from finding what they need.
Stop Password Masking
Usability suffers when users type in passwords and the only feedback they get is a row of bullets. Typically, masking passwords doesn’t even increase security, but it does cost you business due to login failures.
Powers of 10: Time Scales in User Experience
From 0.1 seconds to 10 years or more, user interface design has many different timeframes, and each has its own particular usability issues.
Our initial research with first-generation tablet user interfaces concluded that wacky designs were too prevalent and that signifiers were missing.
After previously having studied young children and teenagers, we rounded out our understanding of young users by testing college students. (Later updated by our user research on millennials and young users aged 18–25 as web users.)
What users believe they know about a UI strongly impacts how they use it. Mismatched mental models are common, especially with designs that try something new.
Scrolling and Attention
People scroll vertically more than they used to, but new eyetracking data shows that they will still look more above the page fold than below it. (Link is to an updated version of the article.)
Website Response Times
Slow page rendering today is typically caused by server delays or overly fancy page widgets, not by big images. Users still hate slow sites and don’t hesitate telling us.
Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design
The ten most egregious offenses against users. Web-design disasters and HTML horrors are legion, though many usability atrocities are less common than they used to be.
How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?
Users often leave web pages in 10–20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer. To gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.
Nonprofit-Organization Websites: Increasing Donations and Volunteering
Giving money on charity websites is 7% more difficult than spending money on ecommerce sites. Donating physical items is even harder. For nonprofit websites, social media is secondary; the top priority is to write clearer content.
We abandoned the text-only web design at useit.com that had served us well since the 1990s. The original idea was to target the reflective level in Don Norman’s 3 level-model of emotional design: using the opposite of the flashy designs that were prevalent during the dot-com bubble generated quite strong positive emotions from our target audience of people who cared about usability. But as those days of excess became more distant, it became less of a point to rebel against them. Thus, we moved to a more normal corporate-style web design in 2013.
Mobile: Native Apps, Web Apps, and Hybrid Apps
Native and hybrid apps are installed in an app store, whereas web apps are mobile-optimized webpages that look like an app. Both hybrid and web apps render HTML web pages, but hybrid apps use app-embedded browsers to do that.
Carousel Usability: Designing an Effective UI for Websites with Content Overload
Carousels allow multiple pieces of content to occupy a single, coveted space. This may placate corporate infighting, but on large or small viewports, people often scroll past carousels. A static hero or integrating content in the UI may be better solutions. But if a carousel is your hero, good navigation and content can help make it effective.
Auto-Forwarding Carousels and Accordions Annoy Users and Reduce Visibility
The user’s target was at the top of the page in 98-point font. But she failed to find it because the panel autorotated instead of staying still.
Three Uses for Analytics in User-Experience Practice
In order to make the most of analytics data, UX professionals need to integrate this data where it can add value to qualitative processes instead of distract resources.
Teenage Usability: Designing Teen-Targeted Websites
Teens are (over)confident in their web abilities, but they perform worse than adults. Lower reading levels, impatience, and undeveloped research skills reduce teens’ task success and require simple, relatable sites.
Research with 1,015 UX professionals found extreme diversity in UX careers in terms of education, job titles, and work roles and activities. (Our new course on UX Career Planning presents our subsequent research into these issues.)
One outcome of our UX careers research was that we identified the need for UX Certification (UXC), and we launched this service later in the year.
When to Use Which User-Experience Research Methods
Modern day UX research methods answer a wide range of questions. To know when to use which user research method, each of 20 methods is mapped across 3 dimensions and over time within a typical product-development process.
Placeholders in Form Fields Are Harmful
Placeholder text within a form field makes it difficult for people to remember what information belongs in a field, and to check for and fix errors. It also poses additional burdens for users with visual and cognitive impairments.
A user’s understanding of an icon is based on previous experience. Due to the absence of a standard usage for most icons, text labels are necessary to communicate the meaning and reduce ambiguity.
Memory Recognition and Recall in User Interfaces
Showing users things they can recognize improves usability over needing to recall items from scratch because the extra context helps users retrieve information from memory.
The Difference Between Information Architecture (IA) and Navigation
IA is the information backbone of the site; navigation refers to those elements in the UI that allow users to reach specific information on the site.
While most client projects have to remain confidential, one client allowed us to publish details on how iterative testing decreased support calls by 70%.
Flat Design: Its Origins, Its Problems, and Why Flat 2.0 Is Better for Users
Overuse of flat design can cause serious usability problems. One of the biggest usability issues introduced by flat design is the lack of signifiers on clickable elements. Flat 2.0 may provide a better alternative.
Menu Design: Checklist of 15 UX Guidelines to Help Users
In both applications and websites, users rely on menus to find content and use features. Use this checklist to make sure your menus do their job.
The Fold Manifesto: Why the Page Fold Still Matters
What appears at the top of the page vs. what’s hidden will always influence the user experience — regardless of screen size. The average difference in how users treat info above vs. below the fold is 84%.
Beyond Blue Links: Making Clickable Elements Recognizable
Whether you adopt a flat-design style or not, interactive components must retain sufficient cues to suggest clickability. Signaling clickability with cues such as borders, color, size, consistency, placement, and adherence to web standards can give interactive components the proper look.
Basic Patterns for Mobile Navigation: A Primer
Mobile navigation must be discoverable, accessible, and take little screen space. Exposing the navigation and hiding it in a hamburger both have pros and cons, and different types of sites have different preferred solutions to the mobile-navigation quandary.
We ran our first research studies in mainland China, focusing on WeChat. (We had conducted previous studies with Chinese users, but in locations like Hong Kong and Taiwan, not mainland China. Even though cultural and linguistic issues are of some importance, what’s most important about UX research in mainland China is to study the different experience architecture that has evolved there, with features and interactions structured differently than in the services we can test in Western countries. Mainland China is a hotbed of UX innovation and we need to learn from it.)
We started researching voice user interfaces.
Finally, we launched on-demand UX training through a new series of online seminars and also launched a video channel with shorter on-demand presentations. Almost all of these videos are produced in 4K.
The Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse than You Think
Across 33 rich countries, only 5% of the population has high computer-related abilities, and only a third of people can complete medium-complexity tasks.
Open-Ended vs. Closed-Ended Questions in User Research
Open-ended questions prompt people to answer with sentences, lists, and stories, giving deeper and new insights. Closed-ended questions limit answers: thus tighter stats.
Design Thinking 101
What is design thinking and why should you care? History and background plus a quick overview and visualization of 6 phases of the design thinking process.
When and How to Create Customer Journey Maps
Journey maps combine two powerful instruments—storytelling and visualization—in order to help teams understand and address customer needs. While maps take a wide variety of forms depending on context and business goals, certain elements are generally included, and there are underlying guidelines to follow that help them be the most successful.
Hamburger Menus and Hidden Navigation Hurt UX Metrics
Discoverability is cut almost in half by hiding a website’s main navigation. Also, task time is longer and perceived task difficulty increases.
Don Norman on the term “UX”
We asked Don what he feels about the way people are using terms like “UX” and “user experience” these days.
Designers Are Not Users
Professional designers are very different from mainstream users, who will use your product in unexpected ways.
Web UX 2016 vs 2004 (Keynote address)
Jakob Nielsen presents a rare longitudinal study of 12 years’ evolution in web usability, from the UX Conference in London.
Design Thinking 101
Discover the purpose and methods used in design thinking, a powerful and flexible process for creating innovative user experiences.
UX Challenges in Designing for Millennials
While similar in many ways to ‘ordinary’ users, today’s young adults do have some distinguishing behaviors that UX designers should be aware of.
We had to rail against antidesign, which surprisingly was trendy that year. History does repeat itself: always something weird with lousy usability that some sites seem compelled to inflict on their users. Proving that new bad design ideas always keep popping up, we warned against manipulinks.
We expanded our research on how to write digital content with a study of how scientists, medical professionals, and other highly educated domain experts read websites.
Flat UI Elements Attract Less Attention and Cause Uncertainty
Flat interfaces often use weak signifiers. In an eyetracking experiment comparing different kinds of clickability clues, UIs with weak signifiers required more user effort than strong ones.
UX Research Cheat Sheet
User research can be done at any point in the design cycle. This list of methods and activities can help you decide which to use when.
UX Mapping Methods Compared: A Cheat Sheet
Empathy maps, customer journey maps, experience maps, and service blueprints depict different processes and have different goals, yet they all build common ground within an organization.
Comparison Tables for Products, Services, and Features
Use this versatile GUI tool to support users when they need to make a decision that involves considering multiple attributes of a small number of offerings. Consistency in content, scannability, and a simple layout are some of the most important qualities of successful comparison tables.
Date-Input Form Fields: UX Design Guidelines
Date-entry fields must be unambiguous and support task completion by using the right design pattern. Small design changes can prevent big user errors.
Flat Design Decreases User Efficiency
Though aesthetically appealing, flat designs often force users to guess which elements are interactive, leading to increased user errors and frustration.
The 5 Steps to Customer Journey Mapping
Journey maps combine two powerful instruments—storytelling and visualization—in order to help teams understand and address customer needs.
Hamburger Menus Hurt UX Metrics
Discoverability is cut almost in half by hiding a website’s main navigation. Also, task time is longer and perceived task difficulty increases.
Design for How People Think
Don Norman says to design for how people are, not what you want them to be.
Is UX Getting Better or Worse?
Each UI generation often takes two steps forward, then one step back. Even as new technologies emerge (e.g., artificial intelligence (AI) and speech recognition), knowing established UX guidelines will help you avoid missteps. This was Jakob Nielsen’s keynote at the UX Conference in Copenhagen.
We expanded our investment in researching Chinese UX innovations and the distinct experience architecture in China, with 6 times more researchers than past years, running lab studies in both Beijing and Shanghai as well as field studies in smaller cities. (As another change this year, each of our research teams is comprised of half Chinese and half Western researchers, in the hope that a broader perspective will provide deeper insights.)
Why Personas Fail
Personas are useful tools for UX work, so why do they often fail? Find out what pitfalls cause personas to fail, and how to avoid and overcome them.
Empathy Mapping: The First Step in Design Thinking
Visualizing user attitudes and behaviors in an empathy map helps UX teams align on a deep understanding of end users. The mapping process also reveals any holes in existing user data.
How to Test Visual Design
When evaluating fonts, colors, and other visual details, assess both aesthetic impressions and behavioral effects.
The State of Mobile User Experience
Ten years from the original iPhone, the field of mobile UX has finally reached maturity.
Quantitative User-Research Methodologies: An Overview
Do you need numerical data about your product’s user experience, but you aren’t sure where to start? The first step is choosing the right tool. Check out this list of the most popular types of quantitative methods.
5-Second Usability Test
The 5-second test is a simple usability technique to help designers gauge the audience’s first impressions of a webpage.
UX Mapping Methods: When to Use Which
UX mappings are visual representations that depict different processes and have different goals, yet they all build common ground within an organization.
10 UX Challenges for the Next 25 Years
Jakob Nielsen presents his UX directions for the future: How UX roles will evolve, and how UX involvement can solve major challenges for the world. (This was the keynote at the UX Conference in Las Vegas.)
Focus on Results, Not on Perfect UX
When designing, Don Norman advises to think about what the person is trying to accomplish. Don’t let the design get in the way.
Service Design 101
Service design is the activity of planning and organizing a business’s resources in order to (1) directly improve the employee’s experience, and (2) indirectly, the customer’s experience.
Bonus: Top 3 Old Articles
Some of the most popular articles on nngroup.com are even older than the ones listed above:
20 Years of Pushing UX
My theme song for NN/g’s 20-year anniversary comes from the 20-year anniversary of another group, the Swedish band The Refreshments: A Band’s Gotta Do What A Band’s Gotta Do (3 min. video).
“Gave our lives to rock and roll” sounds more romantic than “gave our lives to usability,” but my feelings from the early years of Nielsen Norman Group are captured in the song: “anything to get us through!” (Don’t start a company unless you’re willing to put in 20,000 hours of work the first 5 years without seeing a penny in the first year or two.)
While it’s been hard work, it’s also been exciting work, and we have achieved what we set out to do: to push, push, and push the field of UX, which has grown by about 5,500% since we started.
Certainly, we can’t take all the credit for this growth: UX grew because its methods worked and produced better products. Companies that embraced user-centered design did well as a result, and thus gradually invested more in UX. So UX would have grown over these last 20 years, with or without us. But we’ve been part of this explosive growth curve and we have trained and helped many of the people who have been riding the curve over the years. Even better: by helping hundreds of thousands of designers create better products, we have helped make billions of normal people less frustrated by computers and more empowered by technology.
Source link https://www.nngroup.com/articles/nielsen-norman-group-20-years/