Sometimes in our fixation to ensure consistency, we forget that inconsistency can be a good thing.
If we are expecting a different behaviour from the UI, it probably means a different UI needs to be considered. Ok, perhaps not entirely different, but there should be some sort of hint that the UIs behave in different ways in different situation. For instance, buttons for clicking vs buttons as drag and drop elements in the same environment should appear different.
Drawing from our experience with the house we are now renting, where the door knobs took some getting used to – The door knobs are your typical, very simple, classic round door knob, which as you’d expect, open doors. That’s perfectly fine and I don’t have issues with it. The trouble lies in how they work! Yes… that proved to be rather frustrating. See… the same style door knobs were used for all the doors in the house – but some needed turning before you can push the doors open while the rest you just pull and that gets the doors open.
After a while, we figured it out – trust me, our wrists have seen better days – I can see the sense in need for the different operation. Some doors lead to storage areas (these, you just pull) and the others were bedroom and bathroom doors (these you need to turn to open said doors unless you want to hurt your wrists or pull the knobs off!). It took us a while to learn the difference but the point is we shouldn’t have to.
If we are expecting a different operation style, outcome or behaviour, the UI we apply should highlight the difference. Something as simple as different shaped door knob or handles, or perhaps using different colours, would have helped tremendously – and caused far less pain to the users.
So next time you’re working on a project which involves deciding what UI to apply, don’t get too carried away with wanting to be consistent. Consider the operation and outcome; and ask yourself if being consistent would actually cause more pain and confusion.
I’m sure my experience with the door knobs is not unique. Feel free to share your encounters with me as well. It doesn’t have to be technology or web related. 🙂