Consistency Counts: Never Forget Your User
“Reinventing the wheel” is a common trend in the UX field, as is it within the majority of creative disciplines. Keen designers want to leave their mark; to prove their creativity and talent through fresh concepts. Fair play to them. How else are we to ensure trends evolve and continue to keep us interested and excited?
UX however, is a strange beast. A place where boundless creativity must be kept in check. Where any hint of misplaced arrogance can, and will, break a design; where “Reinventing the Wheel” is a trap best avoided. UX is about consistency.
A Strange Encounter
Today’s morning browsing ritual brought me by way of UX Stack Exchange, nothing peculiar thus far. Once there I completed the standard routine of looking for interesting content; having a little browse, nodding or shaking my head where appropriate.
But for the first time I came across something I felt warranted a reply:
(Courtesy of bitinn)
There you can also read my rather brief answer. Admittedly, it is on the short – unsourced – side of things (as I had just about managed to roll out of bed). Yet, the more I think about the question, the more I want flesh out a more indepth response. Not to reiterate my point, as I think that is clear enough, but to distil this notion that we must continually create new solutions.
This question, and the design change proposed, to me encapsulates this notion of reinventing the wheel. Re-solving a problem that already has its solution. Completely rewriting an element which has seen well over a decade of refinement. Even ignoring one of the leading tenets of User Experience: Consistency.
Out of the box thinking has its place, yet UX requires us to tread carefully. Why? As said earlier, UX is a strange beast.
User Experience Strives for Consistency
Our users are the commodity through which we judge the effectiveness of a design. Lest we forget, our user is the one that ultimately provides the paycheck.
Yet a “user” is a fickle and volatile commodity. A commodity that try as we might, may never be completely tamed. Users have their own unique minds and makeup. Adapting to each individual personality is an impossible task. Our job is to create one solution for the masses.
So we play on habits: how we can expect our users to behave. This may range from making a logo click return to homepage, to putting contact information in the footer. We follow the done thing, standards.
Image credit: @inspireUX
By implementing these same interactions across the web, a consistency has been built which allows the majority to know where to go and what to do. Teaching these interactions has been an on-going process since the birth of the web. By changing them we require our user to learn a new process, to learn all over again.
Which is what happens when we ignore consistency. It forces our users to learn a whole new language. They must forget their habits and start over, which is what the above example does. Rather than simply continue with what they’ve done 100x before, our user must adapt to a new system – learn a new way of interacting with a website. No instructions, no guide. The gain? Next to nothing.
Following web standards and ensuring consistency with the rest of the world may stifle our creativity a tad, but the philosophy is user first – not portfolio first.
Focus on what is right for the user
Creating new solutions when there are no problems only creates a problem where there wasn’t one before.
We must put ourselves in the shoes of the user – someone without any understanding of the system. Only then can we judge whether it works (a hefty nod to usability testing). If your solution hasn’t been done elsewhere, first think why it hasn’t been done elsewhere. Why don’t you see it around the web?
In the question we started with, the technique used is a nice idea. It is a breath of fresh air. It solves the login/sign up conundrum in a whole new way. But it is a terrible idea.
That is User Experience Design.