Jakob Nielsen’s Windows 8 Sensationalism

Renowned “User Experience (UX)” expert Jakob Nielsen recently wrote an interesting take on the usability of Windows 8, you can check it out here: Windows 8 – Disappointing Usability for Both Novice and Power Users.

Here is my response to all his criticisms…

“Double Desktop = Cognitive Overhead and Added Memory Load”

I keep hearing the argument that jumping between the desktop and modern apps or the startscreen is distracting, hard to use, confusing, inconsistent, etc.

I think everyone is simply searching for a problem that doesn’t exist, check out these sites below.

ZDNet Website Engadget Website
Ameritrade Website Useit Website

Take a look at those 4 websites, notice anything interesting? They ALL look different, they all work differently, they all show different content, they all have to be learned.

Everything we interact with has a different interface:

  • Desktop Apps
  • Windows Store Apps
  • Every Single Website
  • Every Store we walk into
  • Every Room we enter
  • Every Device we use (Dekstop, Tablet, Phone, Kiosk, Remote Control, TV)

We have been interacting with new, different, inconsistent user experiences since the dawn of time. Yet, now that we have the Desktop (which works almost EXACTLY like it has for the past 10 years) and a new Start Screen, this is suddenly an issue? C’mon, give it a rest already. Heaven forbid you have to actually learn and remember something (both of which are good for your brain).

“Lack of Multiple Windows = Memory Overload for Complex Tasks”

Umm, what?
If I’m using my desktop on Windows 8 I can still have just as many windows open, in whatever combination I want, on however many monitors I want. It works exactly like it always has.

If I’m using Windows Store Apps, I have the option of displaying 1 or 2 appsat any given time. How many apps can the iPad display at once? Only 1. How many apps can a Android tablet display at once? Only 1.

Again, searching for a problem that simply doesn’t exist and certainly not one that is specific to Windows 8.

“Flat Style Reduces Discoverability”

Having flat objects can make it a bit tough to realize it is clickable, however adding in a border, or dropshadow or 3d element or some other styling to make it look like a button ends up adding distracting noise to the user.

Check out his original screenshot on the left, and check out my version on the right, in which I added in some of the elements he suggests to make it feel more like a button.

Original Windows 8 Settings
Windows 8 Settings Menu
Modified version using Jakob’s Suggestions
Windows 8 Setting Menu Modified

Look at how much more noise and distraction there is with all those extra, unnecessary lines on the modified version, it makes your eyes tired. I’d take the flat/original version over the modified version any day of the week.

“Low Information Density”

Windows 8 isn’t about trying to bombard the user with lots of information, it’s about reducing the noise and distractions, its’ about focusing on quality content, not quantity. The beauty of Windows 8 is that it allows the developer to show as much/many things to the user as they want, some apps have a simple landing screen with a highlighed article (Bing Finance for example), some offer a bit more information like the Los Angeles Times app, and other apps offer lots of information like the Reddit app.

Now, take a look at this screenshot from Flipboard, one of the most popular apps on the iPad (this is from their video on their homepage):
Flipboard iPad App

Hey look at that, it also only shows 3 pieces of information.

“Overly Live Tiles Backfire”

Wait, what? You just said that there wasn’t enough information in apps, now you are saying there is too much? I put my tiles in an arrangement that makes sense to me, I know what apps I put where, I don’t get confused over what my apps are because I know where I put them. Similarily how I know the difference between 30 different PSD files in a folder, or Word documents, etc.

“Charms Are Hidden Generic Commands”

The charms actually are not generic at all, they are very clear as to what they are (Search, Share, Start, Devices, Settings), all of which are really quite clear.

Yeah, they are hidden by default, so are most other menus on other operating systems/applications.

Check out the Finder on a Mac for instance:

You have 8, yes 8 top menus to search through to find the setting or option you are looking for. Inside of each menu item you have 10+ options to click on, yes that equals 80+ options and settings to search through to find what you are looking for in dropdowns that are hidden by default.

You want to see “Generic Commands”, look at that screenshot above (Finder, File, Edit, View, Go, Window, help). Now those are generic.

“Error-Prone Gestures”

This is not difficult to understand:

  • Swipe in from the left or right
  • Swipe in from the top or bottom
  • Pinch to zoom

Get those down and you are 95% of the way there, just like on any other tablet.

“Windows 8 UX: Weak on Tablets, Terrible for PCs”

The experience using Windows 8 UI on a desktop or tablet is no worse or different than using iOS on a desktop or a tablet.

I spend most of my time on the desktop in Windows 8, it works just as it has for years, I have as much power as I have ever had. Adding in the Start Screen hasn’t made my workflow any slower (in fact it’s probably sped it up). I can quickly jump to the app I need way faster than I ever could have with the start menu.

I can still pin apps to my taskbar for quick access to my frequent apps on the desktop side, this works exactly like it has in Windows 7.

Again, this is simply someone looking for something to complain about.

Ok, we are nearly done

I wanted to quickly point out Jakob has some of the same “Issues” that Windows 8 has, check out this screenshot of his site:
Useit Website

Flat Style

Everything about his site is flat, the colors, the shapes, the lack of images.

Low Information Density

His site is quite the opposite, it’s overly dense on information. Not only are there about 100 links visible, there is also very little visual cues to break things up to make it easy to read. Headings are all the same color, lists are not indented, spacing between lines is awkward.

Hidden Generic Commands

Speaking of hidden, there is no menu system on his site, you get a breadcrumb menu if you are on a sub-page, but it’s so small and out of the way, that it get’s lost quickly. Plus, you ALWAYS have to go back to the homepage to jump to a new article.

Windows 8 UX: Weak on Tablets, Terrible for PCs

He doesn’t even have a mobile version of his site, (at least not one that loaded for me). His site is all text, how hard can it be to make a mobile version?

How can anyone take Jakob seriously when it comes to Usability, when his own site is miserable to use.

  • Anonymous

    I do disagree with quite a bit of Nielsen’s original post, but I think you’re misunderstanding some of his points and focusing more on design than usability.

    On the flat style point, I’d say although your edits may not look as nice and clean, they definitely look more clickable. Especially when it comes to ‘Change PC Settings’, a simple arrow wouldn’t go astray.

    His article was about Windows 8, not his own website, so those points are irrelevant in this discussion. Merely an immature defense mechanism. But your assessment of his website proves that you’re misunderstanding the ‘flat style’ point. Users have learnt the signs of clickability. He uses the old fashioned, but very well known, underlined blue text links. Again, you must separate design and usability when discussing Nielsen’s article.

Entrepreneur specializing in elegant and effective interface design and critiques for Windows 8 applications and brand identities.