Consistency and conceptual integrity

21 Aug 2007 - 10:01am
6 years ago
2 replies
734 reads
russwilson
2005

The importance of consistency, and what consistency really means with regard to software design,
has to be one of the most misunderstood and misapplied principles. I am constantly tortured by
development with the misuse of this concept.

I would love to get comments/feedback/thoughts from any interested list members regarding my
post on this. I'm still grasping at the right words to communicate what my take on this is...

http://www.dexodesign.com/2007/08/consistency-and-conceptual-integrity.html

Russell Wilson
blog: http://www.dexodesign.com

Comments

21 Aug 2007 - 12:06pm
bminihan
2007

I agree with your overall tenet that consistency is not the be-all and end-all arbiter of design decisions. Creativity is equally important to the experience and occasionally unique circumstances require varying from the norm (consistency) and/or completely reinventing the wheel.

On the other hand, the Wheel example in your post illustrates the boundary between consistency and creativity quite well. You're right, neither bicycles, motorcycles, vans nor sport cars should have the same wheel design - but they're all round, have a hole in the middle, are sized according to their load and treaded according to their anticipated use.

In our last portal redesign, we determined that consistency was the number one problem with our interface, in two veins: 1) The overall experience was TOO uniform and looked the same everywhere you went, and 2) Behavior elements like buttons, links, menus and body content were completely different on just about every page, and frequently several times within the same page. In our redesign, we implemented a principle called "Interface consistency with content creativity". We normalized all links, menus, buttons and typefaces to one font style and behavior (blue underlined links, etc). At the same time, we added 20-odd slightly different "themes" tied to business units, to give people more visual cues to understand where they were in the 500+ community portal. We relaxed some standards around images and clip-art (ugh), let users be a little more creative in their communications, and the resulting portal is much more "friendly, social and usable" than before (taken from recent surveys).

The statement above, "Interface Consistency, Content Creativity" really helped us clear the cobwebs of what we (as the UCD team) meant by consistency. When communicators & business folks understood we weren't trying to change the way they communicate, they bought into the concept much more quickly. In fact, I'd say part of our job was to empower communicators by reducing variance in general site behavior, in favor of highlighting the true content that every portal visitor needed to know.

The lesson learned from our previous portal? Creativity is a necessary part of designing an interactive, friendly experience. Inconsistency for *purely arbitrary reasons* (i.e. because the designer wanted to be different) achieves the opposite of the site's intended effect - it shifts people's focus from the content or task to questions like "Why the hell is that button shaped like a wagon?"

I don't know if I'm agreeing with you or not, but thanks for the post. It's an important discussion and worthwhile having with any development group who questions the relevance of Section 508, W3C, or corporate web standards.

- Bryan
http://www.bryanminihan.com

---- "Wilson wrote:
> The importance of consistency, and what consistency really means with regard to software design,
> has to be one of the most misunderstood and misapplied principles. I am constantly tortured by
> development with the misuse of this concept.
>
> I would love to get comments/feedback/thoughts from any interested list members regarding my
> post on this. I'm still grasping at the right words to communicate what my take on this is...
>
> http://www.dexodesign.com/2007/08/consistency-and-conceptual-integrity.html
>
>
> Russell Wilson
> blog: http://www.dexodesign.com
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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--

21 Aug 2007 - 2:49pm
Jeff Howard
2004

Hi Russell,

Whenever I have to fight that battle I'm comforted by Emerson's
observation that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little
minds." I like to think he was anticipating those in a hundred years
who would point to Microsoft as an exemplar. Maybe not, but I feel
better.

Seriously, I think that patterns help to resolve the conflict between
consistency and conceptual integrity. You don't have to completely
re-invent the wheel, but you can still stand on the shoulders of
giants without become a slave to Redmond. It seems like the best
reason to break from convention is in the presence of a clearly
articulated deficiency in the accepted pattern. Or a well reasoned
argument about why a unique solution is superior.

One minor quibble I have with your argument is about form and
function. Form often does follows function, but forms also _inspire_
new functions, or even new forms. I think that can be fertile ground
for innovation.

// jeff

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