Book Review: Coordinating User Interfaces for Consistency
Hobnobbing with the Hobgoblins
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds…” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. How many of us have been reminded that we left out the “foolish,” and in so doing changed the meaning of his statement? But how often have we been reminded also that we’ve left out the ellipsis? Emerson indeed went on to conclude: “…adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” Indeed? Is it consistency in general that he’s finding fault with after all? In the remainder of his essay, Self-Reliance, Emerson investigates the idea of consistency with great care, in detail, and with a subtlety belied by the abstracted adage. To reap the rewards of Coordinating User Interfaces for Consistency, we must be no less careful in our approach.
Edited by Jakob Nielsen, and first published in 1989, this reprint is warranted by the strength and durability of several of its nine articles. Nielsen admonishes that “…usability methods are much more durable than the average computer technology…. This book is about the methods needed to coordinate the efforts of multiple designers …so that the resulting designs form a coherent whole where users can transfer their learning from one design element to the next.” In my experience, these messages have yet to be absorbed by many companies, and although the articles were written with UI design in mind, they apply with equal force to the arena of technical communication. The principal reason for this state of affairs is the relative ease in formulating rules and guidelines and the difficulty in setting out and gaining agreement for a coherent, communicable vision which can direct the application of the rules during the hurly-burley of development. This difficulty, involving, one might say, consistency itself, rears its head in Nielsen’s unintentional subverting of the seriousness of his message when he refers to replicating the usability of Apple’s Macintosh interface by using “most of the same tricks.”