Website Design Research: What Works and What Doesn't

Nielsen Norman LogoJakob Nielsen, of the Nielsen Norman Group, has been conducting website design research since 1995, essentially since there were websites. He is the world expert on what works and what doesn’t. Instead of marketing, he focuses on the user experience. Ultimately that helps market information, services, and products, but his focus is not on how to trick the reader into believing you are saying something when you are saying nothing, you will provide services they can’t live without, or you are selling a product they don’t want or need at a price they can’t pass up. His focus is user-friendly websites.

Conclusions Based on Research

Nielsen wants to know how people use websites and what frustrates them.

  • Why do employees of companies only find what they want on their own websites 74% of the time? These are sites about a subject they know well and are highly motivated to pursue.
  • Why do teenagers, those masters of technology, have an average success rate of 72%, less than corporate users?
  • Why do e-commerce users only find what they want 64% of the time? This means e-commerce sites are designed to frustrate 35% of the customers who have already “walked into their store.”

To find out NNg does Evidence-Based User Experience Research, Training, and Consulting. The NNg website contains dozens and dozens of well-written research reports of the studies his firm has conducted. This is the kind of information that costs thousands of dollars, and all you have to do is read it.

Nielsen is not afraid of detail and he is not afraid to share what he discovers. And he does it in plain English (mostly). He is not afraid to give examples of sites that don’t work. And he doesn’t favor glitz and glamor over clean simple text and readable photographs.

Research Topics

These are just a few of the topics on which you can find reports:

My favorite individual reports —and I haven’t come close to reading all of them or even implementing everything I have learned from the ones I’ve read:

113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability

Top 10 Information Architecture (IA) Mistakes

A free downloadable Report: PR on Websites

Another free downloadable Report if  you like social media: Social Media User Experience.

There are dozens more. Or if you like books Nielsen has done several classics. The reason they are classics is that they are the authority and things like human-user interface don’t change very much because humans don’t change very much very fast. We still look around with the same eyes and type with the same fingers and forget which page we were on with the same brain.

Mobile Usability by Jakob Nielsen and Raluca Budiu. 2012.

Prioritizing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen. 2006

Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen. 1999, and still relevant. I use this one frequently.

Nielsen’s books are thick and detailed but like websites are easily browsable. You take them in one page at a time or sit down and read them cover to cover.

If you have any interest in web design, Don’t miss Nielsen’s work.Nielsen Norman Logo

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