Jakob Nielsen is a purported “expert” on web usability, though his theories are often subject to controversy. To quote Wikipedia:
Nielsen is a leading web usability pundit, with an expertise based on human factors engineering, but he has earned the ire of graphic designers (such as those at A List Apart) for failing to balance the importance of other user experience considerations such as eye appeal.
That’s a major oversight, in my opinion. I’ve read a couple of Mr. Nielsen’s books, as well as some online articles, and while he does have some very good points on usability, I disagree with many of his teachings.
I simply can’t agree that Nielsen’s UseIt.com is a well-designed website. It looks like a relic from the mid-90s, and my eyeballs nearly bleed when I look at it. (The two multi-colored columns are probably a large part of it.) It looks absolutely horrible, yet I’m sure it reads great in screen readers, prints well, works in text-only browsers, loads quickly at 56k, and follows 95% of the Nielsen usability principles.
However, by building a website in that manner, Nielsen overlooks the majority. The vast majority of web users are running Internet Explorer 6+ or a standards-compliant browser, and a web pages aesthetics matter to them.
Nielsen may have some good points, but I say they should be taken with a grain of salt. In the modern internet, aesthetics matter quite a lot, and are every bit as important to the usability of the internet as Nielsen’s guidelines. Just look at your own browsing habits. Analyze sites you use on a regular basis. What do you notice?
The best-designed sites are the ones that pay attention to little details, and create a great-looking design while putting effort into usability. Web design is all about a balance between aesthetics and usability. Just as Nielsen’s site, which focuses on usability exclusively, is not the way a site should be built, neither is a Flash site that focuses entirely on looks. A website has to have a balance of both, and that balance is what determines whether a site is well-designed or not.