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Usability Engineering Paperback – September 23, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0125184069 ISBN-10: 0125184069 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews Review

An authoritative text by one of the premier researchers in usability engineering in the 1990s, Jakob Nielsen's Usability Engineering provides a landmark guide to software design that has helped bring this area of research into the mainstream of computing. "Usability" is the measurement of how easy or difficult it is to be productive with a piece of software. It often looks at the user interface--what elements appear onscreen and how efficient, confusing, and/or intuitive they are for beginning, intermediate, and advanced users. "Usability engineering" is the formal study of usability. It grew out of research on human factors, which looked at the way people interact with their environment.

The best thing about this book is its concise, cut-to-the-chase approach when defining usability and ways to measure and improve it. As the author notes, in the old days of computing, documents that attempted to define usability might have over 1,000 rules. The author offers just a handful of guiding principles for creating better software that apply even today. (Published just before the Internet revolution, this book's principles still hold true for Web designers, as well as those who create more traditional applications.)

Throughout this text, the author argues for the benefits of improved software usability. With software use as with all things, time is money and making more efficient interfaces translates into lower personnel costs and more productivity. The book also does a fine job of integrating usability design into the software development process, with guides for planning, working with end users, and running tests with users (whether on videotape or in person). The 50-page bibliography attests to the author's previous research on usability.

For anyone who needs to create better, more efficient software, Usability Engineering can help. This clear and intelligent guide to the science of usability engineering has helped enhance the potential of computers to work with end users more efficiently. In the new century, software developers will undoubtedly seek new advances in usability, in part because of the groundwork laid by books like this one. --Richard Dragan

Topics covered: Usability basics, measuring usability, types of users, history of user interfaces, the usability engineering lifecycle, design techniques, heuristics and hints for improving usability, testing, managing user tests, assessing usability, interface standards, internationalization, and Computer-Aided Usability Engineering (CAUSE) tools.


"The purpose of Jakob Nielsen's Usability Engineering is to help nontechnical people improve the systems so that they are not only error-free but also easier and more pleasant to use, and more efficient. It is a book that ...shows us how to change the world and does so admirably....One of this book's strengths is that it provides a wide selection of methods for improving systems, and allows for the unavoidable constraints of the real world."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann; 1 edition (September 23, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0125184069
  • ISBN-13: 978-0125184069
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #587,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D. is a principal of Nielsen Norman Group. He is the founder of the "discount usability engineering" movement, which emphasizes fast and efficient methods for improving the quality of user interfaces. Nielsen was noted as "the world's leading expert on Web usability" by U.S. News and World Report and "the next best thing to a true time machine" by USA Today. Nielsen's Alertbox column on Web usability has been published on the Internet since 1995 and currently has about 200,000 readers. From 1994 to 1998, Nielsen was a Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer. His previous affiliations include Bell Communications Research, the Technical University of Denmark, and the IBM User Interface Institute. See his biography page at for additional biographical information.

Customer Reviews

Additionally, it had good coverage of the practical aspects as well.
One gets the impression that the author thinks he must write in this boring, textbook style in order to be considered "The Book" in the industry.
Rebecca Rachmany
And while Jakob's book "Designing Web Usability" is more popular, to me, this one is the better book.
Matthew G. Belge

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

114 of 135 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
As a Web site designer, I've long been an advocate of JakobNielsen's ideas -- to an extent. Usability is arguably the mostimportant aspect of any design project, and an aspect too often ignored by many software and Web site designers.
Mr. Nielsen, in his book, very aptly points out typical errors and common stumbling blocks of interface design, and presents very convincing arguments and methods for solving these problems. However, strict adherence to Mr. Nielsen's interface design techniques, at the expense of less easily measured human factors, will often result in a sterile and boring product. Both are eminently efficient and usable, but are also wonderful examples of visual blandness -- nearly devoid of the human and aesthetic factors that contributes to a depth of personality and a richness of sensory stimulation.
Although Mr. Nielsen never specifically advocates this, the logical conclusion of his approach is an interface design whose personality and soul have been stripped away in a slavish preference for pure, unencumbered efficiency and usability. Contrary to Mr. Nielsen's examples, the quest for usability should not abrogate the need to avoid ugliness.
For the sake of efficient usability, I wonder if Mr. Nielsen has replaced his impractical, hard-to-maintain backyard lawn with efficient asphalt paving. Or maybe pulled out his expensive, hard-to-clean, dirt collecting, living room carpet and replaced it with an efficient concrete floor. I'm joking of course, but even if Mr. Nielson thinks this way, most do not. Yet, this is the result achieved by many of his user interface examples.
Perhaps on the planet Vulcan where everyone thinks like Mr. Spock, Mr. Nielsen's conclusions and methods might be the eminently rational final word on good interface design.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Eric D. Napier on October 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
If your specialty is the user interface, you need to read this book. If you are interested in developing a user interface design process, you should read this. If you are a software developer who wants to know how to build good interfaces, skip it. It is too much about perfecting the design process.
I was looking for 'use this button for x and this widget for y'. In other words, here are the rules for a good user interface. What I got was 'here is the process for studying users and their interfaces, and here is a mountain of statistics to back it up'. No fault of the author, I just mis-understood what I was getting.
Having said that, if you want to make your living studying and perfecting interface design, read this book.
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97 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Harry Tuttle on February 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
If his own principles had been applied to the book it could be reduced to a a few bullet points.
*the web is slow, less is more.
*tell people what a link leads too before they press it, and make sure it does.
*use standard fonts in easy to read colours.
*use standard web conventions where ever possible as they are familiar.
*check for spelling mistakes and grammar errors.
*write concisely and arrange depth of detail in hierarchies, like they do in errr reference books.
*tell the user where they are, and how they got their, um like a path prehaps.
*some people have small screens, some don't even use microsoft browsers, not everyone has the latest plug ins, allow for it.
*don't employ frustrated artists to design your site, use an engineer.
Jakob proudly states he has multiple patents in the field of usability, maybe following this book will infringe them, or maybe he just kept the good stuff for himself.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Matthew G. Belge on April 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've read some of the criticisms of this book - its wordy, hard to read, etc. I have to say I don't agree. Whenever people ask me to recommend books on software usability, this is always one of the top 5 that I suggest.
Its a textbook, not a novel, and it has all the advantages (precise, scientific language) and all the drawbacks of a textbook (dry, dense).
However, there isn't any better source on things like how to put together a usability test, how to cost justify usability in the overall design process, or even simply, what the usability process is all about. You can't be serious about software usability if you haven't read this book!
And while Jakob's book "Designing Web Usability" is more popular, to me, this one is the better book.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By jackofsometrades on December 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is not perfect, but some of the critique is a bit too harsh. The book is not verbose, it is just user friendly =). I mean, really, the book is a breeze to read, it is clear and not once was I unsure about anything it said. There is only a little more than 250 pages of actual text to read. Then there are excercises which I found helpful. Then there's a long list of references, which some people may find helpful when trying to find more information.
The most incredible part of the book, in my opinion, is the chapter on inexpensive usability engineering methods, that can easily be adapted by small companies without large budgets. They are really worth reading the book!
I believe everyone who wants a career in UI design should read this book first, before proceeding further. Those who are not usability engineers per se, will get all they need from this book (about interface-design), the UI pros will probably want to read other material too, but this is the place to start.
I would give 4.5 stars if possible. The book is not perfect. But I gave 5 stars to help the average rise a bit... ...hopefully.
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