Tag Archives: jakob-nielsen

Information Foraging and The Fold

Even though users are now accustomed to scrolling down web pages, we know that the fold still exists and is important–and how we can design to take advantage of it.

In light of this, Jakob Nielsen has conducted research to see what prompts users use to decide whether to scroll or not (the answer: the information scent).

The implications are clear: the material that’s the most important for the users’ goals or your business goals should be above the fold. Users do look below the fold, but not nearly as much as they look above the fold.

People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll.

Finally, while placing the most important stuff on top, don’t forget to put a nice morsel at the very bottom.

via @zambonini

The New Rules of The Fold

In 1996, while discussing the importance of the inverted pyramid style of writing, usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote that “users don’t scroll”. From there the idea of The Fold as an integral part of web design came into being.

But, as Nielsen himself has said, the Internet has evolved and “as users got more experience with scrolling pages, many of them started scrolling”. That’s not to say that the fold is no longer of any importance, just that the rules have changed.

Looking at eye tracking data—the current gold standard for design and usability testing—design agency cxpartners has come up with some new rules (with examples) for dealing with the fold in web design:

  1. Less is more – don’t be tempted to cram everything above the fold. Good use of whitespace and imagery encourages exploration.
  2. Stark, horizontal lines discourage scrolling – this doesn’t mean stop using horizontal full width elements. Have a small amount of content just visible, poking up above the fold to encourage scrolling.
  3. Avoid the use of in-page scroll bars – the browser scrollbar is an indicator of the amount of content on the page. iFrames and other elements with scroll bars in the page can break this convention and may lead to content not being seen.

Jeff Attwood of Coding Horror looks at how this advice can actually be applied.

It’s not only a basic rule of writing, it’s also a basic rule of the web: put the most important content at as close to the top of the page as you can. This isn’t new advice, but it’s so important that it never hurts to revisit it periodically in your own designs.

In treating user myopia, it’s not enough to place important stuff directly in the user’s eyepoint. You also need to ensure that you’ve placed the absolute most important stuff at the top of the page — and haven’t created any accidental barriers to scrolling, so they can find the rest of it. The fold is far less important than it used to be, but it isn’t quite as mythical as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster quite yet.

Text as UI (On Twitter)

Putting me in mind of Dustin Curtis’ multivariate ‘split’ testing to increase click-through rates to his Twitter profile (previously), Jakob Nielsen discusses his iterative design process for a Twitter message advertising his latest usability conference.

The message went from,

Announcing LAS VEGAS and BERLIN as the venues for our biggest usability conference of the year http://bit.ly/UsabilityWeek

to,

LAS VEGAS (October) and BERLIN (November): venues for our biggest usability conference ever http://bit.ly/UsabilityWeek

I am by no means a high-output Twitter user and I dislike ‘How to Twitter’ articles with a passion. Nielsen’s latest I quite like because he notes that, in the case of Twitter and other micro-blogging services, text is a form of UI in itself.

It’s a common mistake to think that only full-fledged graphical user interfaces count as interaction design and deserve usability attention. As our earlier research has shown, URLs and email both contribute strongly to the Internet user experience and thus require close attention to usability to enhance the profitability of a company’s Internet efforts.

The shorter it is, the more important it is to design text for usability.

On Passwords (Usability and Security)

Passwords have barely evolved since the early days of computing and are taken for granted in our daily online-lives. It’s time for change, says usability expert Jakob Nielsen, who believes password masking goes against basic usability principles and should be stopped (via Kottke).

Providing feedback and visualizing the system’s status have always been among the most basic usability principles. Showing undifferentiated bullets while users enter complex codes definitely fails to comply.

Most websites […] mask passwords as users type them, and thereby theoretically prevent miscreants from looking over users’ shoulders. [However], there’s usually nobody looking over your shoulder when you log in to a website. It’s just you, sitting all alone in your office, suffering reduced usability to protect against a non-issue.

Nielsen suggests that password fields should be plaintext by default, with a checkbox available for when a user would like to turn masking on. Ignoring the usability issue of adding a new and unexpected item to a form, and ignoring the social ramifications of such a change (explicitly displaying lack of trust by turning masking on around friends), do lengthy, supposedly ‘strong’ passwords increase online security anyway? (pdf, via Schneier)

Strong passwords do nothing to protect online users from password stealing attacks such as phishing and keylogging, and yet they place considerable burden on users. Passwords that are too weak of course invite brute-force attacks. However, we find that relatively weak passwords, about 20 bits or so, are sufficient to make brute-force attacks on a single account unrealistic so long as a “three strikes” type rule is in place. Above that minimum it appears that increasing password strength does little to address any real threat.

Secret questions aren’t much better, either.