If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

Today I took a look at some more ‘techy’ posts and came across this on Google Blogoscoped:

If the user interface ain’t broken, don’t fix it… but fixing, Google did, and recently released a new YouTube player that is breaking some of the “learned” interface.

Absolutely Goddamned right.

I spent about six years owning the interface for web-delivered financial information software and during that time learned a lot about how people interact with software. Basically, if anything can potentially confuse people, it will, and even if that’s just one user in a hundred then it all ramps up as your userbase increases.

The most important thing, I found, was consistency, particularly of colour. I’ve advised site designers in the past to make sure they ALWAYS use the same colour for hyperlinks. I’ve seen the effect it has if you just change the colour of something: people get scared. They’re not sure whether what’s going to happen will be what they want to happen, simply because it looks different.

This can even mean reverting to counter-intuitive – or plain old wrong – terminology. For example, being web-delivered, the software didn’t need to have a ‘File’ menu because nothing was saved locally, but we added one because that’s where people expect to find functions such as Print.

But perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising. If you start to muck about with a company’s brand, from values to position to logo, you’re in for a rough ride because suddenly you’ve made the familiar unfamiliar. Corporate history is littered with the aftermath of companies that tried to fix what wasn’t broken, from New Coke to Abbey.

Universal learning for the day: don’t scare people, unless you tell them you’re going to.

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