Usability guru Jakob Nielsen has more thoughts on writing Web-headlines and how they benefit from the use of the passive voice. Nielsen's classic 1998 essay "Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines" is the single most important essay I've ever read on good Web style, and today's followup, "Passive Voice Is Redeemed For Web Headings," is an intriguing followup.
Nielsen's thesis is that the passive voice -- which is usually frowned upon by people who love good prose -- enables headline writers to "front-load" their heds with the key concepts from the story, making it easier for people scanning those headlines (as search results or feed headlines) to pick out their meaning more quickly.
However, recent findings from our eyetracking research emphasized the overwhelming importance of getting the first 2 words right, since that's often all users see when they scan Web pages. Given this, we have to bend the writing guidelines a bit, especially for elements that users fixate on when they scan – that is, headlines, subheads, summaries, captions, hypertext links, and bulleted lists.
Words are usually the main moneymakers on a website. Selecting the first 2 words for your page titles is probably the highest-impact ROI-boosting design decision you make in a Web project. Front-loading important keywords trumps most other design considerations.
Writing the first 2 words of summaries runs a close second. Here, too, you might want to succumb to passive voice if it lets you pull key terms into the lead.
Design critique of Jakob Nielsen
Jakob Nielsen consisely summarizes all the reasons that reading PDFs on-screen sucks. Read the rest
Jakob Nielsen, the legendary usability curmudgeon, has released a list of the top-ten usability mistakes on weblogs. I agree with nine of them but take exception to "8. Mixing Topics" in which he advises bloggers to restrict themselves to narrow subject-ranges. I believe that the thing that makes blogs so exciting to read is that they represent a view into the diverse interests of their authors. But the others are very good:
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3. Nondescript Posting Titles
Sadly, even though weblogs are native to the Web, authors rarely follow the guidelines for writing for the Web in terms of making content scannable. This applies to a posting's body text, but it's even more important with headlines. Users must be able to grasp the gist of an article by reading its headline. Avoid cute or humorous headlines that make no sense out of context.
Your posting's title is microcontent and you should treat it as a writing project in its own right. On a value-per-word basis, headline writing is the most important writing you do.
Descriptive headlines are especially important for representing your weblog in search engines, newsfeeds (RSS), and other external environments. In those contexts, users often see only the headline and use it to determine whether to click into the full posting. Even if users see a short abstract along with the headline (as with most search engines), user testing shows that people often read only the headline. In fact, people often read only the first three or four words of a headline when scanning a list of possible places to go.
Jakob Nielsen is a legendary usability crank who writes great little columns called "AlertBoxes" wherein he runs down his best practices for one or another element of usability (I always forget to read these because I can't find any RSS or Atom for Jakob's site and it updates too infrequently to put it in my regular Moz tab-group bookmark; nevertheless, some of Nielsen's pieces, like the Microcontent thing from 1998 have been very influential in my blogging style)
Last week's AlertBox was about link-style, and it's pretty good and sensible. But, like all of the AlertBoxen, it is ugly as hell.
Enter "Design Eye for the Usability Guy." Five designers, who have clearly been scorched by Nielsen's legendary rants about the primacy of usability over design, take on Nielsen's AlertBox house-style in a kind of overblown, gushy tone, and undertake to remodel Jakob's image so that his site is both usable and beautiful. It's funny, subversive and in the words of the Cos, "you may learn something before it's done. Hey! Hey! Hey!"
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Last time I checked it wasn't illegal to use illustrations to spice up your web site. Now, before we go wild let us remember that Nielsen's not exactly the nothing-but-prada-shoes type of guy. So, I settled with a clean, icon-like style that will reinforce each guideline visually. The colours used are basic: red for links, blue for hover and shades of gray and black for other text. Again, let's try to stick with a style that somehow matches his current branding.
Snipped from the latest edition of Kevin Kelly's newsletter "Cool Tools:"
Here, a cure for badly designed web pages. (This is major news since everything is now on the web.) Follow Krug's key heuristic: "Don't make me think." It works. His manual is a model of what it preaches. It is the best, clearest, succinct hands-on guide for amateurs and pros engaged in making the web a useable public space. You don't need a consultant; you need this book. I pray everyone reads and obey. Excerpts:
* When you're creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks.
*We don't read pages. We scan them.
*Create a clear visual hierarchy. One of the best ways to make a page easy to grasp in a hurry is to make sure that the appearance of the things on the page -- all of the visual cues -- clearly and accurately portray the relationships between the things on the page.
*Jakob Nielsen and Tom Landauer have shown that testing five users will tend to uncover 85 percent of a site's usability problems, and that there is a serious case of diminishing returns for additional users.
Link to amazon.com listing for Steve Krug's "Dont Make Me Think". For more Krugian wisdom, check out this recent interview: Link Read the rest
The NYTimes covers the birth of the TiVo remote, one of the finest pieces of user-centered design I've ever encountered (if only there were some way to tell, without looking, whether you were holding it upside-down).
The peanut-shaped TiVo remote is at once playful and functional. A smiling TV set with feet and rabbit ears, the company's logo, graces the top. Distinctive buttons like a green thumbs-up and a red thumbs-down button have helped the remote win design awards from the Consumer Electronics Association.
"They did a really good job," said Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group, a technology consulting firm in Fremont, Calif. Mr. Nielsen called the oversize yellow pause button in the middle of the remote "the most beautiful pause button I've ever seen."
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Forget Che Guevara, say hi to J. Guevara. Excellent photoshopping of Jakob "Usability" Nielsen discovered in this week's NTK.
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Good Jakob Nielsen AlertBox on designing the PR section of your Website to make journos happy.
In our study, we visited journalists where they work. Many journalists are freelancers or work from home, typically using slow dial-up connections. Many also have old computer equipment and do not feel an obsessive need to download all the latest software. Thus, non-standard data formats like PDF, Flash, and QuickTime tend to clog their limited Internet connections. In several test sessions, PR information actually crashed the journalists' computers. Not a good thing if you're looking for positive coverage of your company.
Another finding? Journalists spurn the informational black holes that populate corporate PR areas. They don't want to register to read a press release; they just want to see if it contains anything worth using in a story. And they don't want to send questions to generic email addresses. What do you think the odds are of getting a useful quote from something called "email@example.com" when you're on deadline?
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Jakob Nielsen consisely summarizes all the reasons that reading PDFs on-screen sucks. Link Read the rest
Jakob Nielsen on online Reputation Managers. Link Read the rest
Headline-writing guidelines from legendary usability fascist guru Jakob Nielsen. Link Read the rest