Getting Real: Context over consistency Ryan 01 Nov 2005

16 comments Latest by Jon

Choose context over consistency when designing the details of a UI. Consistency’s one size fits all approach satisfies theory, but not practicality.

This doesn’t mean a brand new nav system on every page, or completely different fonts or colors on every page, but it does mean think about the details in context. Just like politics is ultimately local, UI is ultimately local too. Make the right choice in the right place at the right time — don’t let a decision over there affect a decision over here (unless it remains the right decision).

Sometimes making a button a link instead may make sense in a specific situation. Or, sometimes centering text instead of left justifying it may make sense in a specific setting. Or sometimes bigger text in a form field may make sense in one place but not another.

So, as the saying goes: think globally, act locally.

16 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Matt Baron 01 Nov 05

This helps to explain why basecamp is so inconsistent.

For example, how I can turn off the formatting helpers on forum messages, but not on writeboards or how the todo list edit links now float out on the left in very inconsistent fashion.

In principal I agree with you, but from my standpoint I think you have taken this principal too far with basecamp.

Eli 01 Nov 05

I don’t think you should move away from consistent site standards unless you have a powerful reason to do so. Consistency == predictability, which makes using a website easier and more intuitive.

Rabbit 01 Nov 05

Eli, I’m going to rip into you.

I don�t think you should move away from consistent site standards…

That is SO out of context. (And isn’t that what this post is about?)

Jason said:

This doesn�t mean a brand new nav system on every page, or completely different fonts or colors on every page, but it does mean think about the details in context. …

Whereas you didn’t specify the details of your argument. Instead, you gave a stupid blanket argument.

“Don’t do this. Do this.”

Those statements are worthless unless they exist within some context.

Furthermore, to create complete consistency across all manner of potential UI screens in a given website is grossly difficult. And if you DO manage that feat, what you’ve done is distilled your content to fit your design. And that’s a puss-ass move.

I bet you a million-to-one that an interface designed with “these set rules in mind” will fail over an interface designed for the sole purpose of achieving a goal.

[Insert profanity vis-a-vis I *Heart* Huckabees.]

Dan Boland 01 Nov 05

Rabbit: It’s funny how you rip into Eli for taking Jason out of context by quoting Eli out of context.

Tomas Jogin 01 Nov 05

I know very well what you mean, but what you’re saying doesnt necessarily go against consistency. Variations on size, layout, navigation, or basically anything else, is possible without going against consistency. Being consistant does not mean that every single page must look the exactly same way, it means that all your UI elements should look and feel similarly, like they all belong there, which they can without every page looking exactly the same.

Rabbit 01 Nov 05

… it means that all your UI elements should look and feel similarly…

Well put.

@ Dan Boland:
How so? Should I have included his “unless you have a powerful reason to do so”? Would that have made what he said any more valid?

I don’t think so.

But hey I could be wrong.

Tomas 01 Nov 05

Those statements are worthless unless they exist within some context.

The context is not important within what Jason is saying. The context is important in the implimentation, however.

The context in question is not particular to any specific application/site but the goal that needs to be accomplished on the individual page.

I’ve just confused myself. I think I made a point, not sure.

annoying_mouse 01 Nov 05

ADVANCE WARNING- OFF TOPIC: has anyone checked out the new microsoft site?

Dan Boland 01 Nov 05

Rabbit: Actually, the second sentence validated his comment more than the rest of the first. All he basically said was to use discretion, whereas you just quoted him as saying “don’t do it.” That’s not what he said.

To illustrate the power of quoting out of context, a story… when I was a freshman in college, there was a forum on binge drinking in my dorm, and the local news covered it. I made a very articulate and thought-out point about how binge drinking among college students in many instances is due to its illegality, that because it can’t be done anywhere out in the open, it’s done in excess behind closed doors. People were nodding and “mm-hmm”ing as I spoke.

But what did the local news feel was a good soundbyte? “Everybody likes to have fun.” Of all the things I said, they took a sentence that was a meaningless part of what I felt was a valid point. It made me sound like a total idiot.

Rabbit 01 Nov 05

I follow politics to a measured degree, and I know how misleading quoting someone out of context can be.

I wasn’t quoting Eli when I said “Don�t do this. Do this.” He never said that. Those were examples of absolutes. I guess not specifically labelling them as such caused some confusion.

Anyway, I tip my hat in your direction Dan B. for writing your point about drinking on campus. Major media outlets are all whores.

Greg Macoy 01 Nov 05

It’s great that people seem to have strong opinions about all of these SvN posts, but it seems like there’s a lot of bitching going, generally.

It seems like half of the time good posts get lost in all of the petty comments against other people. It just seems a bit silly to me, especially given the idealogy behind SvN and 37signals?

Ben 01 Nov 05

Greg Macoy, your dum

heh, jk, good point, SvN has become a bit like a mini /. eh? It’s got the ragging on 37s for posting dumb stories, it’s got the people who post just to kiss up and the people who post just to argue with those people, and it’s got the people who constantly complain about how the site has gone to hell and is a waste of time but apparently not so bad that those people actually stop posting… :) And clearly with this post I fall into that last category myself.

On the bright side there’s no karma and no account numbers to argue about the size of.

Brian 01 Nov 05

I got into this “disagreement” with one of my QA/QC people. We are releasing a document management system where users can upload files etc. You enter the name of the document and a description and attach the file. I have a button that says, “Upload File”. Makes sense.

She rejected my work saying the standard button naming is “Save Information”. This gets used everywhere she says and we can’t change it. We are too far along in the process to change standards. People are used to Save Information and we don’t want to confuse them.

I argued “Upload File” seemed to fit better in this situation and she didn’t care for that so she told her boss I didn’t agree with the “standard”. He followed suit with its the standard and we can change it later.

Change it later? Im not talking about redoing the framework we are talking naming a button the right way.

Jon 01 Nov 05

Interesting idea, but without a few examples, it doesn’t feel very instructional. :) Let’s talk about this in a real U.I. like Basecamp. Currently, on the dashboard page, the company that pays for basecamp is listed at the top with their projects, then comes the other clients alphabetically.

This seems logical, but look how the order changes: when you are inside any project and click the “Choose a project” link and then select the drop down box, your company is no longer on top, but alphabetized into the mix. Isn’t this an example of where consistency would have been both helpful and nice?

While I’m on the subject of ordering, wouldn’t it be great to be able to reorder message categories and edit their names in settings (without having to delete them)?