Friday, May 12, 2017

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Now, this one is another maxim for more advanced clients (as is this one). The challenge for less experienced clients is to recognize that consistency is actually quite a good thing. They’re the ones more likely to have a blue button on one page and an orange one on another, to have title case for one field and sentence case on the next, to have the call to action at the bottom left on one screen and the bottom right on the following one …

Unfortunately, once they really learn the value of consistency, these folks now have to start dealing with exceptions to the rule. Note, though, that this is a good problem for you to have. A rigidly consistent, even overly consistent, system is a ton better than a system that is just total chaos.

As an example of the former, I just had to deal with a consistency problem involving menus. My company offers multiple products – bank accounts, mortgages, car loans, etc. Our menus for each of these is typically a list of the actual products, but also some subsidiary and educational material as well, with these three areas marked out as sub-menus.

We are currently getting into an additional product area, and came up with a menu that includes 1 actual product, 1 bit of subsidiary material, and 1 tutorial. Needless to say, this is quite different from our other product areas, which typically include multiple examples of each type. Even so, some of the team wanted to still use the same organizing scheme – which basically amounted to three one-item lists.

Another common problem is parallel lists – i.e., lists whose items are all similar. I’m a huge fan of these, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. For example, you might have a menu with a bunch of tasks. It makes a ton of sense, then, to make these all start with action verbs – “edit,” “delete,” “create,” etc. Sometimes, though, these menus will also include some support material. But changing that from, say, “help” to something like “Getting Help” or “Understanding how to use …” is just wordy, unnecessary, and possibly confusing.

So, here are some things you can ask the overly consistent to get them to focus on, not just following the rules, but knowing when to break them as well:

  • Are these things truly the same? 
  • Is there a good reason to make this one stick out a little more? 
  • How will the user perceive them?
  • What do we accomplish by making these consistent?
  • What confusion, awkwardness, or other unintended consequences might we cause as well?

By the way, though, do not use this quote! I have a funny feeling that might not go over that well.

I’m thinking this one might have been Photoshopped

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