Domains of Consistency
Since I began developing web sites in ’96, this must be one of the most under-valued, overlooked, and most expensive concept to ignore.
I once read statistics regarding the amount of time planning a web site up front as opposed to “figuring it out” as the project dragged on, they were quite impressive. And yet, protecting the consistency of a web site is often an after thought.
Consistency of a web site spans many differently disciplines. Most people may relegate this responsibility to web designers thinking it only applies to graphics or layout. However, as the Internet’s leading e-commerce sites have taught us, the user’s experience is built upon consistency at every layer of the site.
I will now attempt to cover different logical areas of a web site that must be addressed before a site may be “consistent.”
This discipline concerns itself with what is a sites’ most valuable commodity – the communication (or receiving) of information. In other words, this asks how is your site communicating its message across all pages and is it consistent.
To briefly illustrate its significance, I’ll describe an application I developed that contained logic-intensive instructions. This site contained several financial forms for which the user was responsible to complete in a timely manner. Although some forms were small in the number of fields the user had to complete, the questions asked were quite complex and required the user to perform calculations.
During development, we wrestled with how to communication the instructions is such a manner that would not only convey essential information to complete the form, but also be practically useful. In other words, we wanted to avoid presenting non-essential information.
Our final draft (there were manner versions), was an introductory block of text presented at the top of the screen to briefly describe the overall purpose of the form. Then, as the user progressed through the fields, we isolated instructions pertinent to each field near where they input their answers. Finally, at the completion of the form, we provided feedback with their results and helpful instructions on how they might correct errors they may have encountered.
While complimentary to Information Architecture, this topic focuses on how the user interacts with the site – not just passively reading content. As seen in the leading e-commerce sites, not only are their selection and purchases processes consistent, but each and every decision is presented and results received after a significant amount of study and feedback.