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Interview with J.Nielsen

Interview - Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D.

Upon the release of LIFT - Nielsen Norman Group edition, Mr. Usability himself, Jakob Nielsen agreed to sit down and answer some of the SitePoint Community's burning questions about Web usability.

SP: Where did usability herald from? What are its origins? When did you become involved in the arena? What were you doing before you moved into the field of Usability?

Usability started during World War II, when the Air Force suddenly got a lot of new pilots and noticed that many of its planes crashed because they were too difficult to fly. During the 1950s, Bell Labs pioneered civilian applications. Usability research is the reason Manhattan has area code 212: this was one of the fastest numbers to dial on a rotary phone.

In the 1970s, IBM did some usability work on mainframes, though the leading usability effort in that decade was at Xerox PARC, where many studies were conducted on early versions of the graphical user interface. Apple had a very active usability program in the early 1980s, running frequent user tests on designs for the Apple II, the Lisa, and the Mac.

I personally started working full-time on usability in 1983, though I had been interested in the field for a few years before then, when I was a graduate student. Usability was my first real job, though I had some interesting student jobs -- for example, I was an intern at CERN in 1980, ten years before they invented the Web.

Microsoft didn't start its usability group until 1988, so the initial versions of Word and Excel and even Windows 1 and 2 were designed without usability input. We are still suffering today from some of the bad design decisions made back then. This should be a lesson for anybody who thinks that they can skip usability for the early versions of their designs and add it later.You can find full text of this Interview on SitePoint.com

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