Reading history and reviews
Finished on 9th April 2010Jakob Nielsen is probably best known now for his work on web usability, however as this book (from 1993!) predates the explosion of the world-wide web, it's more concerned with improving the usability of application software. Given the amount of time that has passed (and the attendent changes in software applications and interaction methods) since its original publication date, one might be forgiven for wondering how relevant a 17-year old book might be to the usability issues of today's systems.
In fact much of it turns out to very relevant indeed. Possibly this is in part because actually the mechanism for most human-computer interactions are largely still the same (i.e. screen, keyboard and mouse). However more likely it's because Nielson makes very few assumptions about the specifics of those interactions or the capabilities of the software and hardware, and instead presents general methodologies for detecting usability issues (researching existing software, consulting usability experts, application of "usability heuristics" by the software developers, and user testing of prototype or productive versions).
In spite of the textbook feel it's actually quite an engaging read (it reminded me in some ways of Grubb and Takang's Software Maintenance: Concepts and Practice, particularly with the introductory overview of computer systems and definitions of the components of "usability"), and I think that much if not all of it still applies equally to more recent technology (such as touch screen devices) as well as complementing usability approaches such as "personas". So I think this still provides an excellent introduction to the foundations of making software more usable.