Clear, Consistent, & Concise: The Magic Words of UX

Posted on November 04, 2016 by Bella Wenum

There are lots of things to consider in UX, but three words stick out to me in particular as the “magic words” of UX. These words are clear, consistent, and concise. They apply to all aspects of a site - voice, tone, interactions, content, labels, fonts, colors, etc. 

Clear

Is there an acronym you don’t understand? Do you know what ACH means? What about GDP or GNP? The point is not everyone knows what certain acronyms mean, or it could mean something different to them. Situations like this create unnecessary confusion and are avoidable. Don’t use acronyms, industry jargon, or internal company terminology. Use clear, uncomplicated language that users will understand. If you have doubts a user will understand something, err on the side of caution and assume they won’t and make an effort to clarify it.

Match the site structure to users’ mental models. A mental model, put very simply, is what a user thinks they know about your site. Mental models “come from their prior experience with similar software or devices, assumptions they have, things they’ve heard others say, and also from their direct experience with the product or device” (UX Mag).  A card sort is a quick way to make sure the organization of the site makes sense to its users. According to Nielsen Norman Group, unexpected locations for content is the #1 enduring web design mistake. Users should also know where they are located in a site’s structure - provide a clear indicator of what page they are on with focus states and/or breadcrumbs.

Example of validation. https://codepen.io/SamMarkiewicz/pen/eLmqA

Make sure the interface provides feedback to users. Users need to understand what is happening, especially if you are handling their sensitive data. If the system has a delay in loading data, use a spinner to keep the user informed. Make sure to use validation on forms to communicate any errors to users. These error messages should be descriptive of what has gone wrong and provide direction on how to fix it. 

Consistent

Creating standards for a project matters because humans are creatures of habit. Choose standards and follow them. Consider using best practices and common patterns that users experience on other sites. When an interface is consistent, users will be able to predict what happens before they perform an action. This makes interfaces easier to use and easier for users to complete tasks. 

Consistency creates comfort for users. When users are comfortable with your product, it creates trust in the company and builds credibility. Stanford University research found “people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone… when designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more.” 

Consider the consistency of the experience between small and large screen versions of the product. Don’t hide things from mobile users. If you think you can hide content on a mobile screen, chances are you don’t need it on any sized screen. Reduce this sort of content clutter to streamline interfaces.

Consistency not only benefits the user - it benefits you because your product will be easier to build and maintain. Double win!

Concise

Steve Krug, usability specialist extraordinaire, thinks the fact that users skim is one of the most important things to remember about them. User research already points to the fact that users don’t read, they skim. If you can explain something in two words instead of five, use two words. Avoid filler words and redundancy - concise content helps users achieve their goals faster. 

Create short, descriptive labels for navigation and forms. Use descriptive headings for sections to allow users to browse content quickly to find what they need. Unnecessarily long content creates clutter and clutter increases the potential for confusion. 

Sources & Further Reading: