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21 Dec 2011 / Julie

the simple pleasure of consistent design

In order to make sure 2012 sees me accomplish everything I want to accomplish, about two weeks ago I publicly declared my focus for the year: if it doesn’t fall into one of these categories, I’m not doing it. #focus #2012

And then, because it’s easier to change your environment than your behavior, i set out to make sure that i didn’t just declare these focus areas, but that i made sure I could stick to them. I started out by tweaking my google calendars. I’m a very visual person so in order to tell if i’m spending my time more in one area than another, each focus got a color and I made sure the calendars reflected this. But i realized that I needed go one step further – I don’t just spend my time getting things done or meeting with people (stuff that gets scheduled), I also spend my time communicating about all those items and I’d want to make sure email was set up in a similar way, organized around my five focuses.

Here’s where I realized the problem of consistent design across products and just how much it can throw someone off if they’re expecting one thing and getting another. Let’s start with format.

gcal makes the entire calendar in the cal list and each event in that calendar whatever color you’ve specified, very pretty and easy to figure out:

Gmail isn’t as pretty. Check out what similar category colors look like in gmail:

The other interesting thing is that the colors you have available to you aren’t even the same! Sure, gmail and gcal are different products, but they’re still Google products and you’d think there’d be some consistency with the little things like this (especially after their massive look & feel overhaul). See what the colors look like in gcal:

and gmail:

I’m not going to discuss google reader (whose new look & feel doesn’t even render correctly in safari) and google docs who both don’t have the ability to add colors to categories at all.

Why is it so important to have a consistent design & features across your interfaces? It makes your product easier to manage, use, and customize. Most importantly, it limits customer pain when they’re trying to figure out how to do things, where to go, or if they’re even still dealing with you (instead of having gone to an outside org or product). With libraries, we know the whole “oh this is an EBSCO product so I know what it will look like and what features I’ll have available to me.” But do you give two thoughts to how your library website and your library catalog integrate (or, more usually, don’t)?

The Darien library website has a consistent feel even into their catalog because they’re not using their OPAC’s interface for customers. But take a look at St. Mary’s County Library in Maryland and now their catalog. In the middle, I think The Free Library of Philadelphia did a good job at integrating a stand-alone OPAC interface with their regular website look & feel (check it out).

So while i figure out what i’m going to do with my organization in gmail and my other applications, how are you making sure you have a consistent look & feel in your organizations?

Ps – this doesn’t just apply to your online interfaces… do you have tax forms by the door in Branch A and behind the reference desk in Branch B? Is renewing a book super simple online and really complicated in the branch (or vise versa)? Just sayin’

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