Archive for November, 2009

Jakob Nielson’s take on intuition

I subscribe to Jakob Nielson’s Alertbox. Today’s email contained an ‘extra’ article that I found very interesting.  While all of his Alertbox articles are online and can be found at his website, the twice-monthly email usually contains some other information that is not included in the Alertbox article.

Usually, they’re plugs for upcoming workshops and conferences (all of which I would love to attend).  Today, the email had a blurb about a workshop called “Usability and the Human Mind: How Your Customers Think“, for which he explains why it is important to conduct “observational research of actual, empirical behavior”.

One of my biggest pet peeves is cell phone use while driving.

I never can understand why otherwise normally reasonable people put their lives, and the lives of the other people on the road, in danger by using a cell phone when driving, especially when many of these same people admit to the dangers of driving while drunk and say they’d NEVER do that. Yet, they think nothing of talking or texting while driving, even though study after study has proven that is just as dangerous — if not more so — as driving while drunk.

This extra little article in the email I received today addresses that pet peeve of mine.  Plus, it’s very relevant to the work I do.  So, I wanted to share it.  I am unable to find this small snippet anywhere online, so I am copying and pasting it here.  These are Jakob Nielson’s words, not mine:


I can’t count how many times I have said that what people say and what they do are different things, but here’s very striking evidence of this old lesson:

In an opinion poll, the New York Times asked whether Americans wanted to outlaw mobile phone use while driving.

80% of respondents said that using a HAND-HELD cellphone while driving should be illegal.

But almost 90% said that it should be legal to talk on a HANDS-FREE cellphone.

Completely OPPOSITE INTUITIONS about the danger of these two ways of using a mobile phone. This despite the fact that all studies show that it’s EQUALLY DANGEROUS to use hands-free and hand-held mobile phones while driving.

Research has found that the danger comes from the cognitive distraction of carrying out a conversation with somebody who’s not in the car. The problem is not holding the phone with one hand while driving with the other. The problem is the conversation and the way it lays claim to limited cognitive resources.

This finding is completely counter-intuitive: how can it endanger your life to carry on a simple, everyday task like a conversation? The survey clearly demonstrates that people’s perception of danger is completely divorced from the actual danger.

This, of course, is why we need observational research of actual, empirical behavior. Please don’t just ask users. Watch them.

Here, Here, Mr. Nielson!! 🙂