Everywhere you go there you are

Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Tue, February 11, 2014 - 1:20:39

Lately I have been giving a good deal of thought to consistency in presentation within the UI and how this affects the overall end user experience.

I find that the online shopping experience is lacking something you get when you shop in a brick and mortar store. When you walk through a store, there is a psychical presence that differentiates departments, giving them a different feel. There are displays peppering the layout, different colored walls, and sometimes different music is playing in various areas of the store. The Women's department presents much differently than the Boys department. Housewares do not get confused with handbags. So why is it then that the online shopping experience is so overly consistent, displaying one white background after another?

Online you get the feel for the full brand. Retail sites take on the overall branding to evoke the mood of the company. However, websites are not annual reports. When you drill down they all look the same, with the content being the only differentiator, which, well, sometimes isn’t a reliable differentiator.

Of course a site needs to utilize the company branding. But in lieu of merely supporting the branding, has the branding trumped the experience, leaving the experience bland and sometimes confusing? Have we over-branded experiences? Is it all about highlighting the branding and not pursuing engaging experiences? Does this bland consistency cause the user to have to work harder to locate where they are on a site and how to navigate the site? Often I find that I have to look in multiple places and sometimes scroll to find navigational aids so that I can better understand the context of the content. I spend far too much time looking for page titles and scrolling to breadcrumbs and filters, all to identify what type of item I was viewing.

Landing pages and header areas give minimal assistance in differentiating location, giving context, and setting the tone for each “department” on a retail site. Some sites present the clothing on models, making it obvious which department you are in. However, when a site only presents the clothing, nothing feels different, and in some cases it is very difficult to know if you are looking at something that belongs in the Girls’ or Women’s department. A men's page of T-shirts does not present much differently than a page of boys’ t-shirts. These pages start to feel like glorified lists that strip the feel of the content down to just content and words.

Enterprise apps are not immune from this as well. Quite often enterprise sites are comprised of one form or table after the other. There is little differentiation between objects or departments. Every experience looks and feels the same. Yes, this is easy to create and maintain, but is it a better, more usable experience? One enterprise application I worked on was so overly consistent and mundane it was compared to driving around the Midwest, one cornfield after another. Cornfields are difficult to navigate by and the navigation is learned over long periods of time. This is not an effective approach for software design.

This said, I am curious if there are any successful examples of presenting different experiences in different manners to accommodate the user, the content, and the experience and within the same product. I am still on the lookout myself and would be interested in your input as I pursue mood, emotion, and differentiation for purpose in products I design.

Posted in: on Tue, February 11, 2014 - 1:20:39

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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@Ken (2024 07 09)

The layout is dotted with exhibits, the walls are painted in a variety of colors, and occasionally, different music is playing in different sections of the store. See:  construction invoice factoring