Forget Consistency. Think About The User First.

Stephen Downes points to a great article that argues that designers often focus entirely too much on the consistency of design versus thinking about a users current knowledge.

The problem with thinking in terms of consistency is that those thoughts focus purely on the design and the user can get lost. “Is what I’m designing consistent with other things we’ve designed (or others have designed)?” is the wrong question to ask.

Instead, the right question is, “Will the user’s current knowledge help them understand how to use what I’m designing?” Current knowledge is the knowledge the user has when they approach the design. It’s the sum of all their previous experiences with relevant products and designs.

On a bit of a tangent, it’s amazing how the current knowledge of my own students is shaped from semester to semester. Where at one time, I found myself having to detail every step through every application I ever introduced, now, I’m usually able to spout off general directions (e.g.., publish this, upload that, develop this) without finding classroom learning slowed down with the specifics. In this sense, I am enjoying a mix of things, specifically, students becoming more technologically literate, and many educational technologies becoming easier and more intuitive to use. However, at the same time (still on this tangent), I sense that in general, these same students are increasingly less critical of and less media-literate. I think that the appropriate use of blogs and wikis (and web 2.0 in general) can assist in bridging the deficiency in the latter … but I don’t think that we are quite there yet.