- When a user looks for something, they have an expectation on where it should be.
- Put your buttons and actions where the user expects them.
- In nearly all other cases, people love to be surprised and delighted.
The Whole Picture
Continuing in my thought on identity, I was trying to justify the concept that “variety is the spice of life” and the “who moved my cheese” principle that people dislike change at first, even if it is for the better. Often times, especially in the hard sciences, when you have two conflicting theories or concepts, only one (or neither) is correct. But, in the social sciences, it is possible that both could be true – or at least that both could apply at the same time without conflict.
I set out to try to identify situations where we love consistency yet variety. I came up with tons of examples. When in a long-term relationship, we love seeing the same person, but appreciate when they wear a variety of clothing. We like driving the same car every day, but would go crazy listening to the same song on repeat during our commute. Everywhere I looked, I found specific attributes that are more desirable static, and others that are more desirable as variable.
When designing or creating anything, it is important to determine what attributes should remain similar to a user’s desire, and what can be different. If you’re designing a car, you want to make sure the gas pedal, brake pedal, and steering wheel are in the same relative position as every other car – that’s something people want static. But, when designing cup holders, the radio controls, etc, you have much more freedom. When it comes to products of all varieties, I imagine there are much more variable attributes than the current designers imagine. But, inversely, when it comes to the internet, it feels to me like designers see too many items as variable when indeed they should be viewed at static.
There are certain design concepts that are pretty standard for nearly every website. Take sign in and sign up. While there are some well-defined design principles around this, I’ve seen all manners of sign in and sign up forms that have buttons in all different locations of the site. With the advent and the rise of mobile phone use (and small device use) designers rushed to optimize. Now, different paradigms exist for a user. You have the same website/app on your phone and your computer, but what are you expectations for functionality or button placement? If something is a static element, then as a user, I expect it in the same place in all experiences. If it is not, it causes me confusion and unhappiness. But, if the button is exactly where I was looking for it, that makes me a happy user.