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The End of Usability Culture, Redux : Comments

By Dirk Knemeyer

November 17, 2004



November 18, 2004 1:31 AM

I knocked your original article over on Keith Robinsons web site quite a lot. As you say at the start of this article, it was written in quite a polarising way and it led me to misunderstand your message.

This article speaks to me much more and it makes me much more optimistic about the future of web design. Thanks.


November 18, 2004 4:03 AM

I agree with what you’re saying. Although still at the more inexperienced end of the learning curve I have never understood why either function or design should rule. It isn’t a boxing match after all. One doesn’t have to win over the other. As you say, a collaboration between people working in different areas will bring about a graduation to a new era of web design. Hopefully, this will be more interactive and user-controlled.

In my opinion, the expansion of the range of mediums with which we can view websites will continue. With this comes the need to have websites that suit the medium of choice. In this way, the function is separated for the programmer and editor, and the designer gets to implement the most effective model for the medium being used through stylesheets. However, only through continual dialogue can such a solution be reached that is satisfactory to both the customer and the company.

Joshua Porter

November 18, 2004 4:28 AM

Thanks for jumping back into the fray again, Dirk.

Your rhetoric during this piece was unclear to me. I didn’t understand exactly how you defined anything. But I do think I grasp the overall feel of your argument: the web industry is moving out of the phase where everybody is catching up to one another functionality-wise and so we need differentiation from a branding standpoint…if that’s not right then you’ve lost me.

Without going into how branding is such a huge part of the usability of anything (branding affects use), I’ll stick to your example of the financial services industry, which I commented on last time.

To bolster your argument you highlight Citibank. You say they do not differentiate themselves visually enough (as you claim they have in other media). Then, you show us how well they’re doing…?

Their success seems to contradict your argument. To me, their success suggests that they should investigate how their web site is doing before even thinking about touching it. In other words, make sure it’s broken before fixing it. Isn’t it possible that their web site is a big reason why they’re doing so well? Your article seems to assume not, without giving any reason why this could be so, other than dismissing it as “uninspired”.

The bigger point I’m trying to make in response to your article is that we will not find out anything if we continually make quick, superficial judgments of web design. This is dangerous. It’s simply not an accurate picture of real use.

Igor Freeke

November 18, 2004 5:09 AM

Dirk Knemeyer made a very refreshing and fruitful contribution to the discussion about the value of usability. I completely agree when he argues that usability standards can have a delaying effect on innovation, which is undesirable from an economical point of view

Ryan Cannon

November 18, 2004 6:52 AM

I think part of the problem with stagnation in web creativity and innovation is the outsourcing of the creation and design process. Most companies seem to invest in a large-scale site design, hire a company to do it, and once that system works, they let it sit. Perhaps they make changes, tweaks or updates, but largely they ascribe to the ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it model.

Television, radio and print marketting allow an extreme amount of flexibility because they are largely temporal. A bad ad campaign can quickly be dropped, and entire brand images can be created, enjoyed and reworked with little problem or expense. Corporate web sites, on the other hand, were viewed more along the lines of office furniture than an extension of the marketting scheme.

With the proliferation of XHTML/CSS designs and (hopefully) XSL and similar technologies, rapid, dynamic and innovative change can happen much more rapidly because it requires much less initial investment. With the appropiate skillset, implementation of a seamless marketting scheme can happen on the web at the same pace as any other medium. This change hinges upon forward-thinking web designers, who can wire extensibility and flexibility into their sites.


November 18, 2004 7:15 AM

I guess I was a little harsh after your first article. You’ve made some good clarifications here. I guess I got hung up on you saying what the web ‘needs’ rather than where it’s naturally headed. I can get behind this message, but I just want to point out one thing.

What we need are more Web Designers. People often use the term Designer generically to mean Graphic Designer, but in reality you need designers for every discrete discipline. Even Graphic Designers have specialties (illustration, layout, texture creation, color, etc). The Web has more dimensions than graphic design, because it combines simple graphics with audio, video, essential functionality, in a cross-platform user-controlled environment. Dealing with these issues is not trivial. On the same token, Jakob Nielsen isn’t qualified to be a web guru because he comes from computer usability field which is mired in a land of homogeneity (however justifiably due to the complexity of computers).

When you say that we need more ‘design’ on websites corporate leadership may interpret that by throwing a (Print) Designer into the steering position of a new website. Obviously that would be just as big a mistake (if not more) as you accuse the ‘Usability Paradigm’ of.

In the comments last week Andrei Herasimchuk makes the excellent point that the argument arises from the fact that a project needs a leader. He is absolutely correct, you can not achieve truly excellent design by committee. The leader needs to be a serious Web Designer, someone who understands all the challenging issues. From the current limits of browser and server-side technology to usability principles to graphic design to branding and marketing. You do not necessarily need to be an expert in all these areas (especially for some projects), but they all must enter the decision-making process.


November 18, 2004 9:58 AM

Hi Joshua,

Thanks for your feedback. Yes, you are understanding the thrust of the article.

With regard to the Citi example, the purpose is to show that their general brand approach is successful, and to underscore that the web is the next logical extension of that. Perhaps major corporations can succeed today with brand experience being clumsily applied on the web, but that will not always be the case. In this sense I think Citi is a good example. You mention that it is possible that their website is a big reason why they are doing so well, but I do not see any evidence to second that. What evidence I do see, through clicking around and exploring a bit, is no real or meaningful differentiation compared with other financial sites I have experience with. So I think the basic premise that, relatively speaking, their web experience is a laggard compared with much the rest of their brand experience, is sound.

Your point about the danger of quick, superficial evaluations of websites is valid, and I enjoyed your writings on the matter. Thanks for underscoring this point.

Mike D.

November 18, 2004 11:15 AM

Can’t say I really disagree with any of this article or its predecessor. I never really thought of the whole “usability movement” as a culture because, frankly, it’s always seemed like an anti-culture to me. A movement that says “Hey all you people doing cool stuff – stop! You’re making the web too interesting!”

If you mean “culture” in the bacterial sense of the word though, I guess I can see that. :)

As with all such attempts to overly-homogenize mediums, I tend to just tune most of it out. Make it usable… yes, I get it. But never break any rules even when it makes sense to? That’s what I stop listening.

For a great example of a financial institution who injects personality into their interfaces, check out Washington Mutual Bank. Here is a sample of their TV ads.

Even their ATMs are great. Instead of the bland messages most ATMs give you, Washington Mutual ATMs say things like “Hang on while I count your cash”. Good stuff.


November 18, 2004 11:21 AM

How do you know the Australian bank site you show in this article is “more usable”? Have you tested it? I think very often CEOs or Marketers mistake “visual clarity and simplicity” for “Usability”, but I’m surprised to see a designer do it.

“Usability” is not a quality you determine from clicking around a site and deciding it’s easy to use. The whole point is that you need to check with other people to see if they think it is.

Brooks P

November 18, 2004 11:57 AM

I really enjoyed reading the article, and the previous article. I must admin that upon beginning to read, my blood pressure rose as I thought it was yet another positivist bitching about the world around them. As I kept reading, I found myself in agreement with the argument.

While both articles reeked of technological determinism, they were a refreshing perspective of a community of practitioners that has become both narcissistic and xenophobic. Every day, my inbox is filled with Spool, Neilson, Veen, et al. selling their latest white paper or conference and extolling its value in my company. It seems everyone is an

Jeff Croft

November 18, 2004 11:57 AM

Nice work, Dirk. Both this article and its predecessor spoke pretty strongly to my personal feelings on these topics.

One thing that I defintely feel strongly about is that it’s not necessarily the case that the “usability folks” are coming on too strong — perhaps those of us on the creative design end of things aren’t coming on strong enough. There’s no doubt that the balance has gotten a bit out of whack, but I’m not sure it’s all their fault.

There are a million blogs and sites out there provding great forums for discussion on usability and technology. How many “standards-oriented” blogs are they? I suppose I even have one myself. “Web Standards” are a matter of technology that tend to promote usability and accessibility. That’s great, and it’s well worth discussing. But how many blog are out there talking about the more conceptual, creative, and visual aspects of graphic/web design? How many are talking about branding, visual styles, typography, color theory, etc, etc.? Oh, there are some — I know. But, as you’ve said, the balance isn’t there.

A large contributor to this, I think, is the fact that so many of us “web designers” didn’t come from a traditional design background. Many of us came from technology background, or journalism backgrounds, etc. Many of us “happened” into this. I sure did. The web simply isn’t old enough for people to have spent all of their adult lives training to be a “web designer.” At age 28, and having been creating web pages since 1994, I’m about as close as they come to this — but in 1994, there was no training to be had. Even though I had the interest, I couldn’t go to college for web design. Times are changing, and in a few years we’ll start to see designers who have spent their entire adult lives learning to be “web designers.” Hopefully these folks will be a bit more well-rounded than those of us who came from other backgrounds and happened into this.

Another contributor is the simple fact that in areas like usability and web standards, there are more clear cut “right” ways to do things. We can often come to an agreement on what we should or shouldn’t do in order to make thing more usable or accessible. This isn’t so true when we start discussing other aspects of design, as there is more personal preference, creativity, and individual judgement involved.

But it’s time to talk about design. Yes, that includes usability, but it includes a helluva lot more, too. It’s time to talk about brand strategy, brand identity design, typography, color theory, etc, etc — and talk about them in the context of web design. It time that us “standards-oriented” designers stop shunning things like Flash and table-based layouts and realize that even if we don’t intend to use a particular technology, there may be great creative design concepts we can take from those who do and apply in our technological context. It’s time we start looking at print and other media and discussing how we can apply (or not apply) things we see to the web.

Now that Dirk has taken the initiative to talk conceptualy about how this balance needs to shift, who is going to take it upon themselves to starting talking about design in a practical sense?


November 18, 2004 12:09 PM

Im sorry but the point is still lost, redux. I could take any technology, any business model, any anything, and say that its obsolete..that some new better thing is coming. The argument is meaningless.

Usability culture is not dying. Marketing is killing it. Its as simple as that. Nothing good ever dies. A good product/technology/movement/theme will not die. The goals of individuals in power, who care not about the greater good, will kill a good idea with selfish intent.

The usability culture has yet to begin. The shout for usability is very old, but the culture itself, the movement of designers and developers working together to product more usable technology, has just begun. To quote the film Lawnmowerman “Weve only stepped on the shore of a continent on a new planet”.

It seems that the effect of this article is to push, into the minds of young impressionable designers. that its ok to ignore usability retoric. Sure in the redux article you explain your point much better, but it gets lost in the details; the broad idea that “its ok to consider usability dead” is still quite clear.

And what is this next new great innovation/method of design? Mannerism im sure.

I do not mean to be so harsh in my judgment of your writing, but to you and those in the position that you are in: With great power comes great responsibility (Ya i know…). Having the audience that you have should create a sense of caution to the message that you are presenting. Sure you say that you dont think usability is a bad thing. But when I read this article, its like a bad subliminal message over, and over, and over, and over: “Usability is dead”.

Andrei Herasimchuk

November 18, 2004 4:03 PM

“the broad idea that ‘its ok to consider usability dead’ is still quite clear.”

At some point, you will have to take responsibility for ignoring the title of the article, which is “The End of Usability Culture“ [emphasis added]

The culture of usability in high-tech, which in large part has been driving too many design decisions these past seven years on the web, is what this article is all about. You keep ignoring that point or disregarding it in your rebuttal by responding to the idea that Dirk said usability is dead, which he didn’t.

As for ignoring usability rhetoric, when it’s spouted off in the hyperbolic, extremist fashion that Nielsen has now become famous for, I’m all for ignoring it. Especially when Nielsen admits to not being a designer while attempting to dictate what designers should and shouldn’t do.


November 18, 2004 7:18 PM

It sounds great for all of us who are in the “know”, but when pretty much all of my relatives over the age of 30 still dont get that they can “just check your bank statement online”, or still dont get that you can “just click on it (anything) without ‘breaking’ it”, or dont understand that its “just a plug-in that you download”, or that you “just pick your bandwidth and watch the trailer”, then that shouts pretty loudly.

It sounds like everyone wants to push for the next “whatever” just for the sake of doing so. You have to fix the first situation before moving onto the next. Sure innovation, discovery, and the next revolution that will shake the foundations of how we work, are all great things. But you cant move forward on shakey ground, so there is no use in spreading the “bad word”.

And it still isnt clear to all of us inside the “innovation” bubble: people outside the bubble STILL DONT GET IT. Now I know that this argument is bordering on the subject of standards, but one can pair usability and standards very easily.

With any form of broad innovation comes a period of adjustment. The problem with online innovation is that it happens so rapidly that the periods of adjustment start to overlap; and when that happens whole groups just fall through the cracks. No one gets it, or even worse, people stop caring. They just figure its something their kid will explain to them. Is the common place integration of innovation suppose to be generational now or will be all be able to enjoy a few steps along the way.

Usability goes beyond using padding instead of spacer.gif, or doing something “different” to the site flow rather than logo-nav-header-content. Just because it doesnt look innovating doesnt mean its time to give it up and look for the next best (mostly pushed by marketing) thing. It just means that you are not patient enough to see the fruit of your good works. The Usability culture, or whoever you wish to coin it, is not a fad or a movement or a period. Its a solution to the problem of all the preceeding movements/periods/fads.

Yes i know this post goes all around but its late and im tired. Forgive me if its a bit “jumpy”.


November 18, 2004 9:08 PM

First – thanks to so many people for all of the positive comments, here and elsewhere. My goal is to help all of us – those in the design industry – gain insight and competitive advantage and move ahead. I think the only way to communicate a big message like this is very directly and very frankly, so even though I regret that some people are turned off by the approach I’ve taken, I think it is necessary. The reaction to these articles reverberating across our community substantiate that belief.

Andrew – I don’t know if the entire site is more usable, but the home page certainly is. On the other sites – and the sites of my own personal banks – I can’t figure out how and where to get started. On the Bank West home page, it is clear. Knowing what to do and how to get started is a key component of usability. Clearly, I do not claim to speak on the entirety of these sites. Any inference otherwise is my sloppiness of language.

Jeff Croft – Thanks for the thoughtful remarks, but I’ve heard you’re getting a little precocious about your fantasy football luck…err, I mean success. Seriously, I really appreciate your call-to-action for a practical follow-up to my call-to-arms. That is the point. We need – many of us – to action this stuff, to make a real and practical difference. I intend to myself, starting with my next article in January, but it would be wonderful to see the many of you who are smarter and better at this stuff than me to assert leadership and set a new direction for the industry. There is so much talent out there, and the opportunity is really yours for the taking. Take it!

Eddie – in Utopia I agree with you, but this is a capitalist paradigm: the notion of “will be all be able to enjoy a few steps along the way” is a quaint and unrealistic perspective. Noble, certainly; I wish the world worked that way, too! I respect where you are coming from in your various comments, but the fact is that (both) articles went out of their way to talk about design as an exercise in balance and creation, and that I value usability. My point is about a culture and approach, not the idea of usability (as Andrei very ably pointed out). I regret that either my writing or your perception obscured that.

Because people are Hell-bent on making their fortunes and conspicuously consuming, as they have been taught is the “American Dream,” technology and innovation will be well content to leave older people scratching their heads and younger people cluing them in, in most cases. Not that things should be that way, or that I personally am turned that way, but things are that way. What we need to do is make the most of it, and do what we can to shape it in a better way.


November 19, 2004 4:07 AM

“A movement that says “Hey all you people doing cool stuff – stop! You’re making the web too interesting!”“

I was asked elsewhere to not literalise Dirks first article and to read between the lines. I think you might need to do the same regarding usability. Yes, Nielsen is someone to safely ignore most of the time but to generalise the whole of the usability culture into a bunch of people trying to stop other people do ‘cool stuff’ is a bit too polarising for my tastes.

Lets not forget that the usability culture has actually brought the web profound benefits, of which one is to stop doing ‘cool stuff’ for the sake of it. If designers have gone too far with adopting the usability culture then it would be as much a mistake to go too far in its opposite direction too.


November 19, 2004 7:17 AM

The whole idea of ‘usability culture’ is too binary for my tastes. Everywhere I’ve ever worked we are always asking ourselves “does it look good?” and “does it fit our brand?” just as much as “will the user get it?”.

Usability to me is just common sense stuff. If you have a complex website it pays to have some laypeople come in and try to do things. I would no sooner remove that from my culture than I would turn off my creativity.

I think in a practical setting innovation is rare not because management is mired in a usability culture but because people have neither the time nor the talent. There are many good graphic designers, but how many can be truly innovative on a tight schedule and budget? I believe the most creative of us will gravitate towards jobs that allow them to express themselves, while the banks of the world will have to hire an agency if they want things to really pop.


November 19, 2004 9:39 AM

I would like to state that, although there are many different opinions expressed through this discussion thread, well all seem to have the same goal; Making the web a better place. Overly stated, and blindingly obvious yes, but I am still very happy to see that, althought we see the path differently, we all seem to have the same goal. Even if I/you/we go about it wrong sometimes, because we all see the same light at the end of the tunnel, we will recognize our mistakes and correct them along the way. I do it with every project I develop, looking back on the last project and learning what I did wrong, and what I can do better.

As for the capitalist paradigm, this is a very very true statement; one that should get an article of its own. Our careers, and the decisions we make are driven by this idea(s). But isnt it our job, or purpose, to be the guerilla warriors that work behind the scenes to ignore the push of the almighty buck? I know that its a bit much to think of ourselves like this but isnt it true?

We are constantly pushed, in all directions, by opinions that we know do not have the right goals in mind (im not saying that making a buck isnt a good goal but…), but at the end of the day, just because it was influenced by the almighty buck doesnt mean that it will produce more almightly bucks. Its not a war between the designers/creative directors and the marketing heads/ceos, but at the same time it has the feel, and the same nature. A good designer will not fold to the pressures above, if he/she believes that they are with ill, or selfish intent. Sure its not a utopian society, and I will admit that it never will be, but it doesnt make fighting for it worthless.

Im not saying that the ideas presented in the article dont do that, but just wanted to make the point. All im trying to say is that my thoughts here are very “if the world were a perfect place”, but just because the world wont ever be a perfect place, doesnt mean that we should not try (in any way possible) to get it a little closer.

I realize that this rant has taken off in a few new directions, and i apolgize for that. I tend to get a little excited when typing in text areas :-P


November 19, 2004 9:42 AM

Also, before I forget. I appreciate the direct feedback. I moderate a few discussion sites, and realize how hard it is to take the time to respond as you have.

David Mosher

November 19, 2004 2:46 PM

Great read Dirk,

I saw the newest article posted and decided I should read the prior article once I got into the first few paragraphs so I could gain an understanding of the “big picture” :)

I really think you’ve got some “visionary” type material and by that I mean when I read it, I start thinking about the future.

The first article was well written but I think there was one piece in particular, in the second article, that pulled the entire “vision” together for me.

Your’ description of web development as a “clashing” together of 2 different disciplines: Computer Science and Graphic Design. I found that to be refreshing.

It makes me think and try to re-evaluate where I am in the spectrum as a “developer” of web based media. The way you’ve written things also makes me consider how I can help to “swing the pendulum” back to the center in my own methods.

Great article!


November 19, 2004 5:57 PM

Am I right in this simplification?

When designing a site, one must strike a balance between usability and design. That is, one should work to make a businesses’ web site easy to use and have a unique look from the rest of their competitors. Maybe even think of new ways to accomplish a particular task. In conclusion, both design and usability are equally important in creating a successful user experience.


November 20, 2004 7:27 AM

Gabe – your mention of the role for agencies in the corporate process is exactly right. While the complexity of the web makes it somewhat different, once there is a point of more maturity in the way the web works in a corporate context, there will be a clear agency structure for the web that works as well as advertising agencies do today.

Eddie – yes, I agree with the notion of our trying to be “guerilla warriors” and advocate higher values and thinking. But so often we will be running against the stream, even to the point of not being able to retain or get clients in some cases. That is not to say we should not attempt it, but there is a risk there. Unfortunately, the system is turned in a different direction. Capitalism, at its most basic level, is a survival of the fittest struggle that encourages rule-breaking and success at all costs. Your motives and contributions to this conversation are much appreciated.

David Mosher – thanks for the kind words. The future is ours; the opportunity is there. Take it! :-)


November 20, 2004 6:57 PM

I am not a designing professional so I hope you do not mind me expressing my thoughts on this subject.

Designing Websites is still a young industry. Web browsers are now finally providing a consistent view of websites. Most people still do not use the internet as it could be used. But more people are finally awakening to the fact that the Web is a great resource. Given this situation, I am not sure a problem between usuability and design has even started. I think the biggest problem is still how to classify the web. Is it software that users interact with? Is it a hyper version of print media? Or a frame by frame video? Or a mixture of many things? It seems best to look at other industries for clues. This search may also provide clues as to what a web designer should be. What other industry has to consider user interaction, material construction and style? For me it is architecture.

Designing a building needs to meet the users needs, use materials that are within the financial limitations and provide a style that stresses the brand and culture of the people using it. The use of space and material give users a clue as to the function of a room and ultimately the whole building.

Once web designers use visual styles to suggest function and to create a flow from one section to another through out the web site then the discussion about over bearing usability will be mute.

Brendan Taylor

November 20, 2004 11:45 PM

I can hardly believe some of the things people are saying here.

“It time that us “standards-oriented” designers stop shunning things like [...] table-based layouts and realize that even if we don’t intend to use a particular technology, there may be great creative design concepts we can take from those who do and apply in our technological context.”

What creative concepts do table based layouts bring to the web? How is “usability culture” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) discouraging people from doing interesting things?

HTML and CSS are a beautiful pair precisely because they allow you to create something basic and usable and then enhance it as freely as you like without breaking that usability. It’s a significant part of what they’ve been designed for; there’s no mutual exclusivity here.

The amount of design and creativity that goes into a site is completely unrelated to the usability of that site; there are plenty of beautiful, innovatively styled sites with sane HTML (eg. anything on and plenty of stale, derivative and just plain ugly sites where usability has never been considered (eg. anything on I don’t understand what the usability detractors think they’re backlashing against.

Robert C Worstell

November 21, 2004 8:04 PM

Usability became the plateau which all web designers must master as they also study CSS, scripting and the other tools which both integrate into good design as well as good usability.

The next chin-up bar above usability is content/experience, as you mention with Starbucks. This is the realm of the Art Director, meaning that web design is beginning to stratify with design being one specialty, scripting and database interaction another, art direction a third.

Internet site (includes blogging) design is an evolutionary scene, as is the Internet itself – which is just another facet of our changing modern culture.


November 22, 2004 7:36 AM

You made a good point that banks have become commodities. But the notion that a better design could somehow make a slight contribution in reversing that trend seems idealistic to me. is an interesting site, but it is a promotional site of which look very much like any other bank site out there.

If you want to differentiate your bank from other banks, you have to provide better service. “Live Richly” is a great touchy feely marketing piece that has indeed endured in my mind, but in the end, it is just an empty slogan with no concrete service associated with it. (Not anything people can recall anyway)

Take Commerce Bank here in the east coast. It hardly does any advertising, yet the branches have been popping up here and there. And everybody is talking about how the branch is opened until 7pm and even on Sunday. Imagine what kind of buzz it generated when it stayed opened on Labor Day. It’s all about the service.

Anyway, here’s why I think design just doesn’t matter as much on the Web:

Web is an intangible and fleeting medium. So it is unable to generate the kind of emotional responses that we get from interacting with well-designed, tangible medium, such as products and prints. Web is a transaction medium that is not much more than a gateway & interface. Visual is secondary (for most sites)

Jeff Croft

November 22, 2004 1:05 PM

Brendan said, “What creative concepts do table based layouts bring to the web? How is “usability culture” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) discouraging people from doing interesting things?”

Brendan, you completely missed my point. Table-based layouts in an of themselves do nothing from a creative standpoint. They are simply a means to an end. However, there are a great deal of creativley designed, quite brilliant websites that still use tables. All I’m suggesting is that many standard-based designers (of which I am one) look at these sites and shun them straight away for using tables, rather than looking deeper and noticing strong points about the site that they could use as inspiration for their next project. Rather than noting nice typography, or a creative layout, they decide it’d crap because it’s based on tables. I’m simply suggesting that we ought to say, “wow, that’s pretty cool — I think I’ll try that concept in my next design, only using CSS layout istead of tables.” That’s all.

My concern is that standards-based “designers” are too concerned with the technology used to recognize great visual design when they see it.


November 22, 2004 6:29 PM

I don’t want to be offensive, but you sure know how to talk, but I’m not so sure you have the experience needed to discuss usability, because if you did you would understand that the usabilty culture is not ending, it’s beginning.

I think the usabilty culture hasn’t been controlling the web, but the web has created the usuability culture. All the standards that are appearing offer more flexibility into what a design can be, offer more accessibility to the growing number of devices out there, and significantly reduce cost if thats what big businesses are looking to do.

If anything, the web will only become more accessible. Sure there will be new technologies, but the usability culture will only increase. But wait it’s not a culture, it’s the base of ANY quality website focused on delivering information.

Is writing articles on digital web open to everyone who can write?

Matt Rehkopf

November 23, 2004 1:32 PM

I agree, Dan. The fact the Dirk rails against Citibank’s site for not being more like its offline advertising is an indicator that he does not fully understand the nature of the Web. Should we reduce websites down to animated print ads and streaming commercials? Isn

Michael Almond

November 23, 2004 8:37 PM

Well, this time around I have to disagree with many of your ideas. In fact, I am writing about this myself and state many opposing opinions (by shear coincidence, not as a reaction to your very thought provoking articles) For instance, I make the case that “we” are not ahead of the rest of world, including business leaders, people using the Web (I won’t use the term “User” anymore, so I guess we share some commons feelings) We are behind. Particularly, far behind many people from other disciplines who truly feel free to examine, interpret, predict and DREAM about this creation of ours.

I tend to write long posts, emails, note-it notes-and I don’t want to write an article here, but a few points I believe and must mention here (and I am no expert in these areas. They were just ideas and my dreams) Much to my surprise, every single one of them has already been written about, discussed, debates by scholars, students, etc, in areas such as philosophy, social science, politics, the list goes on.

The idea I had that I thought to be the most “out there” (crazy, O.K.?) regards the question of what the impact will be-the effects that our creation will have on those who created it (human beings).

I believe that we are at the very beginning of a profoundly important change in the way we live, both in social groups and as individuals. In other words, we are going through, or at the beginning of, an evolutional change; our evolution as human beings.

Turns out there are very smart and visionary people, mostly in other fields, who think this is exactly the case, or at least a possibility. By the way, I do not include myself in this group…I simply have an active imagination, and I made a choice to use our creation, our new tool, to find these inspirational articles, papers, even periodicals and online publications such as the one we are on now. It involved, simply, “adding” a click or two to the usual ten sites we feel we must view daily, myself included (this idea of “addition” is important as I am sick of the tearing down, the reduction of, and attempts to obliterate our own colleagues, even if you fancy it up with terms and words such as culture, it amounts to the same thing: you talking about people).

Why are we doing this? I observe it every day, present article and discussion included. And what is the problem with this “healthy” debate? Isn’t that what the Web is all about?

Well, I think I will include in this piece of writing I am completing, some interesting ideas about why this is happening and what risk it puts us in, and of course an alternate way, suggestions-not solutions-let’s say options as to how we might avoid what we fear the most. And here comes the “tease” I can’t resist: the fear of being made obsolete. And guess who I think is our greatest threat? You can make the connection.

Finally, I can’t resist mentioning than just today, Jakob “my time is through” Nielson published an Alert issue that discusses an interesting topic, one very different in nature that the usual “micro” topics we tease him about. He wrote about the impact of the Internet on the course of our evolution.

Now, who is it that isn’t looking at the “big picture?” Let’s all sleep on that.

I look forward to a potentially lively discussion, including dissent and disagreement (should any one read my comment and if I am lucky, an article, unpublish as of yet, that provides a far more detailed exploration into these ideas, observations, and story-telling (another tease, but cut me a break, I worked for years in social change communications campaigns. It is in the blood).

Thank you for letting me share and for all who did the same,
Michael Almond


November 24, 2004 3:23 AM

I’m a CITI customer, back from when they used to be called Citibank. I use their online site to get my credit card statement, and I have to say, it is a poor experience. A failure of both usability and branding.

The branding is amateur. The canadians get a nice maple leaf flag and a nice jpeg of a white family. Very clip-art. I wouldn’t mind it so much, if it wasn’t 100k of useless data that must be downloaded over a slow SSL encrypted connection for each page.

To find out what my current statement balance is (the only thing I do on the site), I need to 1) login 2) view statements 3) select current statement. It’s a slow and tedious process, even with DSL. Also payments CITI has received are on the first screen, so I’ve paid twice by accident. (The statements never change to “PAID”.)

I don’t buy the “experience” argument here. I’m already a customer, so why waste the money to continue to brand me? I just want to find out how much my visa bill is. I think the author comparing an advertising site (give us money) to a functional site (pay your visa bill) isn’t quite fair.

Generally speaking:

Advertising=experience, and Functionality=usability.


November 29, 2004 3:49 AM

I was finding myself becoming more worried about ‘the rules’ than I was about making quality websites. Your articles have helped me to take a step back from that and remember why I love web design whilst still using what I have learnt about usability. Thanks! :)

Marcus Haas

December 6, 2004 12:42 AM

As a start-up webdesigner i found this article very useful. I know the standard, I even heard of usability but for design I rely on the knowlege of a Pro – a friend of mine is a grafical designer. And that is truly useful when getting away from the logo-header-nav-content design of so many boring sites.

Well, it is still logo-header-nav-content but it can look different ;-)

Keith Instone

December 8, 2004 4:59 PM

I like the redux article better than the first because the second is less polarizing. Everyone agrees that it takes a multi-disciplinary team to do it right, but for some reason it is much easier to write in a way that divides us.

It is all about the right balance of visual design, usability, usefulness, content, technology, branding, structure, interaction, context, business value, emotion, function, etc. I have a lot more than 3 circles in my Venn diagram.

We all fail (as a group) when we do not collaborate and cooperate. Let’s write more about working together, instead of publishing articles that push us apart.


December 13, 2004 5:57 AM

Both articles are absolutely fantastic. Someone has at last given an accurate analysis of the current situation. I have been waiting for this for over three years. Thank you.

Ryan Counts

January 3, 2005 2:36 PM

I guess I see the same trend happening, but for different reasons. The way I see it, for the past couple of years developers and designers got way too obsessed with what was technically possible, and forgot about the people using it. The whole point of usability was to say, “hey, wait guys, we lost the users way back there”. It really made everyone stop, think about what they were creating, and go back to the roots. And now we’re tipping back over to the other extreme, putting too much focus on usability and forgetting other critical elements. So, it’s just natural that eventually the pendulum swings to something else, we just haven’t put our finger on it yet. Probably scent tags for websites.

Sheri Sipsis

February 17, 2005 12:37 PM

Please consider what usability is before making assertions that is it dead. “[Usability refers to] the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of user.” – ISO 9241-11. Given this definition, how can usability be dead? Do we not want to produce websites that enable users to achieve their goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction? Usability isn’t a set of restrictive ‘rules’ and ‘guidelines’. Usability is about understanding and advocating our end-users, and soliciting objective input from them as we design for them. Any professional designer that claims usability is dead is truly missing the boat here. Usability is evolving. It’s maturing. It is critical to business success. It strenghtens brands. It increases customer satisfaction, builds customer loyality and increases revenue. And contrary to popular belief, it is not contrary to visually pleasing design. In fact, visually pleasing design is an aspect of usability – part of what makes the experience more satisfying to the end-user. The true challenge is to design an asthetically pleasing site without introducing obstacles to the users success. That’s usability. That’s success. That’s superior design. Your article takes a very narrow view of usability and totally misses the essence of what it truly is and the value it adds. If usability is dead, we are all in very serious trouble as web design professionals – not to mention as web end-users.

Smart Feller

June 1, 2005 6:20 AM

Everybody get back to work! Sheesh.


July 5, 2005 9:33 AM

Also, before I forget. I appreciate the direct feedback. I moderate a few discussion sites, and realize how hard it is to take the time to respond as you have.


September 28, 2005 7:03 AM

Is it just me or does csszengarden smell communistic? I design with tables and will do that into the future!

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