Of Global Consistency and Current Knowledge

Web usability consultant Jared Spool recently wrote about the difference between designing for “consistency” and designing for “current knowledge.” This concept has great relevance to the design of global Web sites

Jared writes…

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.

So let’s apply this concept to the design of a global Web site. Consider how Web users around the world expect to navigate a Web site to find content that matches their language and location. Even though we’re in the early stages of Web globalization, Web users have developed a “current knowledge” in this area.

For example, as more and more Web sites locate their global navigation elements in the upper right corner of the Web page, more and more people expect to find cross-language or cross-country navigation there. To locate this “global gateway” anywhere else is to work against this emerging “current knowledge.”

Also, the use of a globe icon to draw attention to the global gateway further increases usability, because it sends a clear message to all Web users regardless of what language they speak. And an increasing number of Web sites have wisely added the globe icon (or a map icon). Flags may also play a valuable role in this regard, but they also present inherent dangers.

The reason I like this “current knowledge” concept is not just it forces us all to keep our designs tightly focused on our clients and prospects but also because forces us to keep our eyes open to the evolution of Web designs around the world. We cannot afford to ignore design trends in China or Korea or Eastern Europe because they directly and indirectly affect how Web users interact with our Web sites around the world.

You can read Jared’s essay here.

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