Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Return: The Value of Consistency

I have been distracted for a couple of months ... working to find and land another consulting contract.  I have completed that task.  However, it is outside of the medical device industry.  I am not completely happy with the situation, however, having a position outside of the medical device industry does afford some freedom when commenting on it.

Another reason for the significant gap between my last post and this one has been that I was working on a long and intricate post regarding hacking or hijacking medical device communications.  The post began to look more like a short story than a commentary.  The more I worked on it, the longer and more convoluted it became.  At some point, I may publish portions of it.

This experience with the article that would never end has lead me to change the way I'll be posting articles in the future.  In the future, my articles will be short - two to four paragraphs.  And will address a single topic.  I think that some of my posts have been too long and in some cases, overly intricate.  I still plan to cover difficult topics, but in a format that is more readable and succinct.

Consistency in User Interfaces

When it comes to making user interface "usable," the two qualities are 1. Performance and 2. Consistency.  Performance is obvious.  If the interface is slow, unresponsive, sluggish, etc. people will not use it.  Or those who are stuck with using it will scream.  Consistency is somewhat less obvious and more difficult to describe.  However, when you encounter a user interface that has changed dramatically on an application that you thought that you knew, you understand the value of consistency. 

Recently, I encountered a newer version of Microsoft Office.  Gone are the pull down menus, the organization of the operations and tools has changed dramatically.  Frankly, I hate the new version.  If I had encountered the newer version of Office as my first encounter with Office, I know that my reaction would be different.  The new version is inconsistent with the older version.  My ability to transfer my knowledge about how to use the newer version is being hindered by the dramatic changes that have been made.  

Consistency is about providing your users with the capability to reapply their knowledge about how things work to new and updated systems.  Operations work the same between applications and between older and newer versions.  In the case of the new version of Word, I am grateful that once I have selected a particular operation, such as formatting, it essentially works the same as the older version.  However, I have tried to use the newer version of PowerPoint and it's drawing capabilities.  I have not yet been successful and am a drawing tool that I know how to use.

Consistency has a side benefit for the development process as well.  When operations, layouts, navigation, etc. become standardized, extending the design of a user interface becomes easier, less risky and less likely to be rejected by users.  The effect of creating consistent user interfaces is similar to having a common language. More on consistency and HE-75 in a later post.

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