A Threesome of Consistency

As we build software in a business environment (and in any environment), it’s desirable for software to be discoverable, allowing users to easily use the system without extensive documentation or training. Software that “just works” the way a user expects will result in a pleasant user experience.

Consistency in the software helps facilitate this experience.

As I test software, and keep user experience consistency in mind, I find three guiding areas for which I seek consistency.

The Consistency Threesome

  • Consistency Within the Application – Within a given application, similar behaviors should act similarly. If your dialog boxes usually have OK and Cancel buttons, they ought to be displayed in the same order in each place. Error messages should be displayed in the same manner everywhere. If your date standard is MM/DD/YYYY, every date should be shown in that format.
  • Consistency Across Line of Business Applications – In a business environment, the same group of end users often works with several applications to perform their job duties. A product manufacturing company might have applications for materials ordering and inventory management. Law enforcement organizations likely have multiple computer systems that store information about common entities such as an offender. A car dealership could be working with auto sales, financing, and service-related systems. As new software is introduced or changes are made to existing systems, ensuring that similar functions work in similar ways across applications can help enable the user to have a comfortable experience.
  • Consistency with Industry Conventions – Beyond applications used by a particular individual, we ought to look at industry trends and conventions. If widely used applications or websites have begun using a convention to do something, it probably makes sense to use that same convention. Folks are used to separating email addresses with commas… if your program allows a user to type a list of email addresses, let them delimit with commas. We often use the color red as one of the ways to denote an error… using green would be disingenuous. Go with the flow.

…and the Exception to Every Rule

There can be exceptions to every rule. You might have a really good reason to buck convention and make something inconsistent. But if you can’t identify that good reason, or the answer from the developer is “I just felt like doing it this way,” it’s probably not a good reason.

Even the Big Boys are Consistently Inconsistent

I present to you, the current Updates screens for the iPhone and iPad. Let’s play “Find the Update All button.” Hint: it’s not in the same place. More than once my hand has reached to the wrong side of the screen.

iPhone Update Screen showing 'Update All' in the Upper Right

iPad Update Screen showing 'Update All' in the Upper Left

And I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking that I’m comparing the portrait-oriented iPhone to the landscape-oriented iPad. So here’s the portrait version of the iPad.

iPad Updates - Portrait Version

Coming in the future: Consistency in the Absence of Specs

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “A Threesome of Consistency

  1. Pingback: Amazon’s Big Kindle iOS Bug: App Store Awkward | Kwality Rules

  2. Pingback: Agile Consistency Without Reams of Specs | Kwality Rules

  3. Pingback: SSRS Rounds the Wrong Way! | Alder Locke

  4. Pingback: SSRS Rounds the Wrong Way! | Alder Locke

Chime in with your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s