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Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed [Paperback]

by Jakob Nielsen, Marie Tahir
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 2001 073571102X 978-0735711020

The book begins with a briefing on Jakob's web usability principles, themselves culled from years of research. The 50 sites fall under such categories as Fortune 500 Sites, Highest-Traffic Sites, and E-Commerce Sites.
The content is simply presented: Four book pages are devoted to each homepage. The first page is a clean screenshot of the site's homepage (for readers to make their own, unbiased judgments), followed by a page that explains the site's purpose and summarizes its success--or failure--at usabilty. The third and fourth pages are devoted to crtiques, where Jakob and Marie present no-holds-barred commentary for specific usability practices, as well as suggestions for improvement. Although only the homepage of each site is analyzed, many of the critiques can be applied to overall website design.

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Editorial Reviews Review

While there is a plethora of books available that provide tips on Web design, most authors leave a significant gap between the theory and practice--a gap that is left up to the reader to fill. Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed boldly steps into that gap with specific observations and suggestions backed with solid quantitative analysis. This book focuses only on home page design as the most important point of presence for any Web site.

This definitive work is coauthored by Jakob Nielsen--the accepted industry expert in Web usability--and Marie Tahir, an expert in user profiling. Their collaboration has produced a guide of such rare practical benefit that Web designers will likely wear out their first copy scouring the pages to savor every last morsel of wisdom.

The book begins with a chapter of precise guidelines that serve as a checklist of the features and functionality to include on your home page. The specifics found in categories such as "revealing content through examples" and "graphic design" will quickly hook you and whet your appetite for more. These guidelines are followed up with hard statistics and an examination of the ominous Jakob's Law: "Users spend most of their time on other sites than your site." Here you'll find some interesting statistics about how various conventions like search, privacy policies, and logos are used.

All this leads up to the showcase element of the book--a systematic deconstruction of 50 of the most popular home pages on the Web. The authors painstakingly pick apart each in an uncompromising autopsy of usability. Each site is graphically analyzed for its use of real estate and summarized with the frankness only found from true experts. Then each section of the home page is bulleted and analyzed for potential improvements.

It's a bold move to offer a critique of industry-standard Web sites such as Yahoo, CNET, and eBay, but the authors have done such a fine job that the designers of those sites will surely make reading this book a high priority. For the rest of us, this work will serve as an invaluable gospel. --Stephen W. Plain

Topics covered: Design guidelines, convention usage, screen real estate, navigation, content presentation, search facilities, links, graphics and animation, advertising, news, customization, and customer feedback.

From Library Journal

Nielsen, dogmatic don of web usability, and his strategy director Tahir believe that a company needs a well-designed homepage to succeed online. They provide 113 brief usability guidelines that lead into a chapter on homepage statistics, giving readers an idea of conventions to follow or break. The homepages of 50 major web sites, from to, are then pictured and critiqued in terms of those recommendations and statistics. A useful resource for both novice and professional web designers; recommended for all libraries.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: New Riders Publishing (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073571102X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0735711020
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 10.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 50 Web Site Deconstructed May 29, 2003
According to this book, users spend most of their time on other sites than your site... When a user visits your site, he/she will be bringing a large load of mental baggage accumulated from prior visits to thousands of other home pages. So by the time they reach your web site, users have accumulate a generic mental model of the way a homepages are supposed to work, based on their experience on these other sites.
It is a very interesting point. According to authors of the book, there are few large web sites that might count themselves among the first 10 to 20 sites visited by new users. And design of these web sites dictate the design conventions that a user will expect when he/she visits other web sites.
Example of some of these conventions mentioned in the book are:
upper-left corner is the best place for a site logo
upper-right corner are more generic locations for search widgets and "help" links
Navigation of the site is best usable either as a tab-style (such as in or as a column on left side of the page (such as in
Links should be blue-underlined, and visited links should be purple-underlined
footer navigation links should be only for "foot-note-related" content and should be limited to no more than 7 links
on and on it goes
So how do authors derive these conclusions? The process is actually very interesting. They conduct studies of top 50 chosen web sites and group their findings into conventions.
The book also "deconstructs" those 50 chosen Home Pages, and provides annotated analysis. You may find it interesting. Among those are such sites as,,, BBC Online, CNET, Disney, eBay, Microsoft, IBM and many more.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not scannable January 28, 2002
By Marsha
The first 50 or so pages provide a good summary of the authors' advice on making web sites usable, and back some of it up with statistics. This is valuable information.
The remainder of the book is comprised of the home page reviews. On page 55 the authors state, "Some of our comments may seem picky; we have tried to comment on everything big and small. In terms of sheer volume, the smaller usability items dominate the reviews. Most of these minor problems will not prevent a determined user from using the site, so they are not true usability catastrophes like the ones we often find when we study people trying to complete an entire task on the web." This pretty much tells you what you will see in the remainder of the book.
Unfortunately, the reviews do not make it clear whether the authors consider each home page a usable home page or not. Positive comments and problems are both noted in the home page reviews, but not visually differentiated from each other. In addition, there is usually no indication as to whether a given comment represents a "minor problem" or a "usability catastrophe". Nor is there any indication as to which review findings are supported by research; many seem to be based purely on the personal opinions and preferences of the authors. I disagreed with many of these statements based not only on my own browsing experience, but also on my experience providing user support. These factors limited the usefulness of the reviews for me.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heuristic evaluation in a coffee-table book February 12, 2002
Web site usability has come a long way. For proof, just consider the strange case of Dr Jakob Nielsen.
Back in 1995, Dr Nielsen was a Sun Microsystem Usability software usability expert with a string of published papers and books on topics such as "heuristic evaluation". Nielsen had spent a chunk of his career analysing the benefits of quick-and-dirty usability methods such as heuristic evaluation, where a group of experts rate a system's compliance with established usability norms. But such methods remained generally underappreciated, and Dr Nielsen's books and papers were read by a relatively small group of fellow specialists. In 1995, with Web sites becoming a popular new type of "software", Dr Nielsen started publishing his thoughts at his own Web site,
Now move forward seven years, and here is Dr Nielsen again, peering out of the front of a book through neat glasses, wearing a red tie and perfectly mismatched greenish-blue shirt, with hair just long enough to mark him as a child of the 1960s. Except now Dr Nielsen is famous and runs sell-out executive lecture sessions on Web site usability. And the book out of which he is peering is not a scholarly tome but a big, glossy, full-colour 320-page compendium of heuristic evaluations on some of the world's best-known Web sites. It's called "Homepage Usability".
Yes, it's the world's first coffee-table usability book.
And if you can get over the price, "Homepage Usability" is both a useful contribution to the discipline, and more fun than you'd think. It's a set of design rules centred around an examination of the home pages for 50 major sites, including the highly-valued (Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google), the worthy (PBS, Art Institute of Chicago) and the famous (CNN, Google, BBC Online).
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Love JN or hate him, you have to read Homepage Usability December 19, 2001
A decent overview of the corporate homepage as first impression, with its own conventions and caveats.
Drawbacks: Each page -- all 50 of 'em -- is critiqued in unprioritized detail, the book's worst oversight. Most developers have mission-critical tasks, and some of JN's pronouncements are nothing but opinion, not proofs backed up by research. Minor proofing errors just aren't on the same level as critical path architectures, and the book doesn't differentiate this for readers.
Sheer volume does work in one area, however: the most interesting part of the book is the appendix, which offers side-by-side comparisons of all 50 sites that zoom in on particular aspects of design: page titles and taglines, screen real estate breakdowns, search features, and more. These comparisons reveal the homepage as a landscape with its own map, for good or ill.
The best reason for a web professional to read this book is that most decisionmakers for corporate websites will read this and declare expertise. It's good to be armed -- and love him or hate him, JN is quoted often enough that he can't be ignored. So read it, but make sure to pursue alternate points of view.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed
DON'T BUY THIS BOOK! It's outdated. The 50 websites have ALL been completely redesigned, if they even exist today. Nothing in this book was helpful. Read more
Published 21 months ago by aron
4.0 out of 5 stars still the best
Jakob Nielsen knows what he's talking about when it comes to webpage design and usability, and he explains things in understandable, non-techie ways. Read more
Published on November 15, 2010 by Jenn
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book.
I read this book while I was on school vacation. I didn't want to stop learning; I want to know "everything" about web design. This book helped me a lot. Read more
Published on September 8, 2010 by LB
5.0 out of 5 stars Good reference book
I always refer to this book before making any updates/changes to my home page/website. I would also recommend Jakob Nielsen's website for additional usability... Read more
Published on December 23, 2009 by Kenyanese
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but...
This is a nice book...but..Idk..i don't really use it. I bought it for an online class and I haven't looked at it much. Maybe I will when I get more time..
Published on March 22, 2009 by K. de Lannoy
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent in 2001 - Still applies but now looking dated...
I bought this book when it first came out. This was an amazing critique of many major websites and I learned a lot from it. Read more
Published on February 10, 2009 by Mr. Matthew Manderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed Oriented Examples for Good Content
It was a while ago when I read this book, about 3 years ago and I still remember how extremely informational and what an eye opener it was to learn all sorts of content do's and... Read more
Published on April 10, 2008 by M. Ormaza
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn more things than you ever imagined could be wrong with a...
Until you have pointed out how popular websites have horrible flaws you just don't notice it. We rarely see good sites (and the distinguish quality of a good site is you don't get... Read more
Published on November 16, 2007 by Richard Frantz Jr.
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the better books available on Website Usability
Homepage Usability presents 50 major websites to artful analysis and thoughtful design criticism much in the way a well written art history overview would examine and catalog an... Read more
Published on May 20, 2007 by Paul G. Wolfson
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Resource!
For that homepage that snaps and attracts design in Internet 'real estate': covering navigation, music, content, identity recognition employing elements of type, pictures, spacing,... Read more
Published on April 13, 2007 by Karen Thompson
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