How Jakob Nielsen Changed the Face of Usability

Chris Kringle is the father of Christmas, Abner Doubleday is the father of Baseball, Enzo Ferrari is the father of the Supercar.
Jakob Nielsen is the father of Usability.

Since receiving a Ph.D. in human–computer interaction from the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen, Jakob Nielsen has become as important in the field of usability.

Jacob Nielsen’s Definition of Usability

Jakob Nielsen defines usability as a quality attribute which can be assessed against five quality components.

1. Learnability — a measure of how easy users find it to accomplish tasks without prior experience with the design.

2. Efficiency — how easy the user finds it to complete tasks once they are familiar with the design.

3. Memorability — how easy the user finds it to readopt the design after a period of non-use.

4. Errors — a measure of how many errors the user made and how hard the user found them to recover

5. Satisfaction — the overall feeling of confidence in the design.

Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics

Jakob Nielsen employs 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design. They are intended as general principles for interaction design, not specific guidelines. The Heuristics helped Dr. Nielsen make fast and low-cost improvements to user interfaces.


1) Visibility of System Status

He explains this as a need for timely feedback from a system. The system needs to keep users informed as to what is going on behind the scenes. This is a “please wait” screen when a website is loading or anything to tell the user that what they are experiencing is expected and they should not leave.


2) System and Real World Compatibility

The user and the system need to understand each other. In other words, they should speak the same language. The symbols used to need to be known concepts, familiar to the user. This makes information appear, in an order that is natural to the user.


3) User Control to Correct Mistakes

Support undo and redo functions. Users will make mistakes regardless of how good the system is. This needs to be accommodated for with ways to exit and go back.


4) Consistency and Standards

If green means good and red bad, this need to be carried throughout the whole system and true in all cases.


5) Error Prevention

Before thinking about redirecting users, user error prevention needs to be implemented. This is best achieved by use of the other usability heuristics.


6) Recognition Rather than Recall

By making information visible, the user does not have to remember as much. This assists with error prevention and makes the system easier to navigate. All relevant information must be retrievable at all times.


7) Flexibility and efficiency of use

Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.


8) Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

The dialog should contain no more information than necessary. Items should take up no more space than they need to. Everything needs to look designed well, the colors need to work with one another.


9) Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from errors

Errors need to be easily diagnosed; all error messages should be in a simple language, not code. Options to further diagnose and report the problem are essential.


10) Help Documentation

Help documentation should not need to be relied on. However, when help documentation is used, the user should find it simple to navigate and search.


The work Jakob Nielson has done for Usability has changed E-commerce. The internet is a fiercely competitive marketplace. By implementing Jakob Nielson’s theories and Heuristics, websites will draw traffic and retain it. They understand that if a website or software is not laid out in a user-friendly manner, people will switch to one that is.

Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.