Preface to the 7th Printing of Designing Web Usability

We are emerging from a lost decade of user interface design. From 1993 to 2002, the vast majority of new interface designs in the world were committed by people with no training in interaction design. The resulting productivity loss was staggering, especially on intranets. Public websites were often designed to be actively user-hostile and were dominated by self-serving messages and bloated fluff that made it very difficult for customers to finds the answers to their questions.

Luckily, user-hostile design has proven to be a self-defeating strategy for public websites: such sites simply get no customers. Intranets are also improving, and many big companies have initiated efforts to standardize their internal designs across departments using a small set of templates and a content management system. My intranet design annuals show clear signs of usability progress year for year (see  for the winners - or better yet, make your own intranet good enough for next year's award).

I wrote this book with two clear goals. The highest-level goal was to improve quality of life by reasserting humanity's mastery of technology. On a day-to-day basis, you may think of usability as a way to increase sales (for public websites) or productivity (for intranets), but in the aggregate, if we make websites and intranets easy to use, we will increase users' quality of life by eliminating a lot of frustration and the feeling of inadequacy that follows every time you are stumped by a computer.

My more immediate goal was to promote a new philosophy of web design: simplicity. When the book was originally published, this was a controversial goal and I was often in the distinct minority at industry conferences. Eyeballs ruled the day and it didn't matter much whether users could actually accomplish anything. I am now happy to declare victory. Usability has become accepted as an important component of almost all professional web design projects, partly as a result of the success of this book, but mainly because it works.

Most of the web pages that were criticized in the book have since been redesigned: the companies took advantage of getting free consulting. I have retained all of the original screenshots in this printing because the design mistakes they illustrate are still rampant on the Web, even when they have been fixed on the sites that originally provided the examples.

We may have won the battle to get usability accepted, but we have not won the billion skirmishes to make every single web page optimal for users' needs. In every new design project, there is always the temptation of making things complex, introducing too many features, pouring on the bells and whistles, while spending more word count on the company's own message than on answering customers' questions. The guidelines in this book are as important as ever, because it's not enough to believe in usability; you also have to implement it.

The price of simplicity is eternal vigilance.

Jakob Nielsen