Online user experiences: does consistency matter?

Via Tomalak’s Realm: Mark Hurst writes on about how users interact with websites by discussing something he calls “The Page Paradigm.” He distills the patterns of user interaction with websites to the following rules (paraphrased):

  1. On any given web page, users will either click something that appears to take them closer to the fulfillment of their goal, or click the Back button.
  2. Users don’t care “where” they are in the website—the site structure and secondary navigation is largely irrelevant.
  3. Users only come to a website when they have a goal. If your site helps them fulfill that goal quickly and easily, the user will have a good experience. Nothing else matters.
  4. User interface consistency is not important on the web. Efficiency in helping the user fulfill their goal is.

In practice, he says this means that on each page, you should identify the user’s goals, de-emphasize or remove areas of the page that don’t help the user fulfill that goal, and emphasize links or other elements that help the user find the goal.

It’s hard to argue with his practical recommendations. His rules, though, are open to investigation. Surely site navigation and structure, if consistently defined and executed, plays some purpose in helping users figure out how to accomplish their goal.