Flout Convention At Your Peril

A year and a half ago, Peter Coffee of eWeek wrote a column exhorting software designers to stick to convention when designing application interfaces:

The Web-browser actions of “back” and “reload,” along with a history of visited locations, have become widespread user interface metaphors. Browser-style buttons invite us to explore file systems, review online documents and access digital media—whether or not we’re on a network and whether we’re viewing resources that are local or remote. It figures that just as we reach the point where everyone knows how these things work, the content creation community is changing the rules.

Users have deep-rooted expectations about the semantics of “back” and “reload.” “Back” means “show me what I was looking at before I was looking at this.” “Reload” means “show me the present state of the content whose past state I’m seeing right now.” When designers don’t respect these conventions, users become confused and transactions are derailed.

He’s right, of course, and it goes without saying that in the absence of detailed requirements, testers will test applications to behave like all other applications.

So keep your nonconformist genius to the metal sculptures you make in your backyards  on the weekends.

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