Saturday, September 16, 2006

On the Meta-Usability of User Interface Standards

The need for UI standards ...

"Setting the standard
Interface standards provide context-specific guidance for implementing a system based on the task goals and functions within it. A solid standard provides guidance at two levels. At the level of look and feel, it ensures consistency throughout the application or site. To be meaningful in usability terms, the standard also must provide guidance to support a consistent experience at the functional level.

Assuming that a standard is constructed from a task perspective, the benefits are obvious. It’s easiest to demonstrate this by contrast.

Have you been on sites where every section looks as though it was designed by someone else? Look and feel standards eliminate this problem by describing an overall look and feel that is applied to each page. This consistency offers users confidence in their sense of place within the site. Systematically applied, look-and-feel standards support an implicit association between the brand and the full depth and breadth of the tools or resources provided. Things that look the same tend to be grouped together as coming from a single source.

Look-and-feel is only a small part of a good standard, though.

Have you ever been on a site where the search button says “Search” in one place, “Get” in another, “Find” in a third and “Go” in a fourth? (Within one portal, sporting lots of user-selectable portlets, they were all on the same page!) Good standards also provide functional specifications to eliminate just this sort of inconsistency. Standards identify key interaction types and describe patterns across them to make sites easier to learn, predict, and use.

Clearly end users benefit from well-designed interface standards. However, organizations benefit as well. Organizations benefit from reduced production costs and more effective use of resources. Production costs are reduced because standards are essentially reusable, template-based building blocks. Developers identify the task a user seeks to execute on a given page, select the template based on that task, and then customize the page to fit the specific context of that task. Most of the taskflow work is done at the point of template selection. Even better, site wide task-level consistency is achieved by simply teaching developers to select the right template.

Resource use is optimized because reusable templates allow time-strapped developers breathing room to focus on more interesting and challenging problems. The return is even greater in production teams where content developers accidentally became Web page implementers. For these teams, templates allow content developers to focus on content, rather than decisions about relative font sizes."   (Continued via uiGarden)    [Usability Resources]


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