Heidi Valles gives five tips for improving usability through consistency
Heidi Valles on keeping things consistent
One of the issues I enjoy digging into when auditing sites for accessibility is consistency; making sure repeated terms and functionality appear and behave the same way across the entire website. Aligning common elements in this way makes for a predictable experience that supports the user when they are exploring the site.
One of the four principles of WCAG 2.0 states that websites should be ‘predictable’. Under this, there are two criteria that depend specifically on consistency. 3.2.3 dictates that navigational items (e.g. navbar links, previous and next arrows, breadcrumbs) occur in the same relative order each time they are repeated. 3.2.4 rules that components that have the same functionality (e.g. carousels, tabs, buttons) are identified consistently.
It’s understandable that someone might think that adding a little variety would make a site more interesting. But in general, a uniform UI is actually of service to your users. Having to learn how to use a site over and over again with each new page will only frustrate visitors, particularly those using assistive technology who might now need to invest even more time and energy.
Let’s go through some key ways you can make sure your website is easy to use. Keep navigation constant: Small changes like updating ‘Sign in’ to ‘Log out’ are fine, but in general your page navigation should be unchanging and ever-present Make functional elements predictable: Elements that help a user move through content (e.g. ‘next’ and ‘previous’ links, pagination), should look and act the same wherever they’re used Consider notifications: Adopt a consistent method for laying out forms, displaying notifications and giving error messages. Ensure info tips, carousels, date-pickers and other widgets all look and behave the same way Don’t reuse functional icons for different purposes: A ‘next’ arrow should always be a next arrow Use clear, consistent terminology: Ensuring your terminology is consistent will lessen cognitive load and make a site feel easier to understand. If search functionality is labelled ‘Search’, use this term throughout – don’t introduce other descriptors such as ‘Find a topic’ or ‘Page lookup’ By creating an overall experience that is predictable and clear, users can navigate with confidence, absorb content fully, and move on to participate, make a purchase, or reach out. An accessible website is an effective website.