Danish-born Dr. Jakob Nielsen, 46, who completed his doctorate in computer-human interaction at the Technical University of Denmark in 1988, made a name for himself in Silicon Valley during the late 1990s as a champion of minimalism and ease-of-use in Web site design. In fact, a list of the sobriquets bestowed on him by the press neatly recalls those overwrought times: "the reigning guru of Web usability" (Fortune); "eminent Web usability guru" (CNN); "perhaps the best-known design and usability guru on the Internet" (Financial Times); "the usability Pope" (WirtschaftsWoche Magazine, Germany).
If Nielsen's status today is less Papal, he's nevertheless continued to build a body of research, best practices and technologies (including a remarkable 73 patents), all of which relate to how companies can actually get the increased productivity and business value from IT that has so long been promised. "It's still a horrible experience to do business with most companies," Nielsen says, "because, honestly, their computer systems remain so cumbersome and customer-hostile."
In 1998, Nielsen and fellow futurist Don Norman formed the Nielsen Norman Group. The Group has consulted on projects at a number of well-known firms, including General Electric, General Motors, UPS, Hallmark Cards, and wsj.com. Each year, it recognizes the "Ten Best Intranets." Meanwhile, in his regular online column, "Alertbox," Nielsen continues to increase his reputation as a gadfly.
Executive Editor Brad Wieners recently caught up with Nielsen by telephone and asked him what, if anything, we've learned in the decade since everyone awoke to the need for a Net strategy.