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Jakob Jumps The Shark

Jakob Shark

In the distant past, I would laud Jakob when he was being pilloried by the masses. But then, Jakob’s brand of rhetoric moved away from reasoned discussion of design, and he started venturing into areas he has no expertise in, such as ROI. Scott Hirsch and I tore apart his pathetically flimsy “Usability ROI” report, as it had no grounding in anything resembling financial practice.

And then, more recently, I’ve objected to his essays where he makes specious claims seemingly for the sole purpose of puffing up his events, and his comments that suggest he hasn’t appreciated how the Web has evolved in the last 6 years.

But, wow, what a last straw is his latest essay, where he claims “In one example, a state agency could get an ROI of 22,000% by fixing a basic usability problem.” If he hadn’t jumped the shark before, he really has now. He backs this outrageous claim with a remarkably naive cost-benefit analysis, the kind of financial fiddling that no serious finance director within any organization would believe. (At Adaptive Path we actually conducted research with a range of organizations on how they do such math, and these kinds of multiplying-lots-of-little-numbers-to-make-a-big-number kind of math never holds water.)

I wouldn’t write about it except that I fear that Jakob is turning into a pernicious force when it comes to advancing the field of design, because his reach means tens of thousands of people are reading this unsubstantiated crap. Such outrageous claims truly feel like the wild flailings of increasing irrelevance.

8 years ago, the web had two usability prophets – Jakob and Jared. Had you asked me to place bets on which one was worthier to follow, I would have said Jakob (UIE’s “Web Site Usability” book pissed me off). But in the last 4 or 5 years, Jakob has receded to the point of almost total irrelevance, whereas Jared and his gang are pursuing important and interesting questions, and never making specious claims about what they’ve found. Ditch alertbox and subscribe to Brain Sparks.