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The Impact of Illogical and Inconsistent Layout

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Given the hundreds of processes we encounter each and everyday, it’s reasonable to admit that we aren’t always in control of the variables we face. Guest blogger Bernie Smith discovered this for himself and decided to share his story and revelations with us.


© Flickr user Hernán Piñera

Long term memory of layout and consistent conventions are crucial to us rapidly finding the information we need. I was rudely reminded of this yesterday when I tried to find my hotel room. My room is 2125 and I was confronted with this sign:

consulting on unreadable signs

Just in case you are struggling to read it, this is what it says:

First Floor

Bedrooms 2102-2113 (arrow pointing upwards)

Bedrooms 2132-2137

(arrow pointing to the left) Bedrooms 2131-2120

Bedrooms 2138-2142

Bedrooms 2119-2114

Now I eventually worked out that they had reversed the order of the numbers on some of the lines (including the one with my room on it). It had taken me 10-20 seconds to figure out what was going on (it was the end of a long day), probably ten times longer than it would have taken if they had stuck with convention and been consistent. The impact of illogical and inconsistent layout is felt by us dozens of times a day. The good news is that we can train users of our products (in my case report and dashboards) to “know” where their information is by using a very consistent physical layout.

It is this strong, long-term memory for layout that humans possess which is the root of the very powerful “memory palace” techniques you may have heard about. It’s the technique that Hannibal Lecter uses in Robert Harris’s book Hannibal. There’s also a fantastic book about Matteo Ricci, a Christian missionary in China in 1577, who wowed the Chinese aristocracy by training their sons to use this technique. (The book is called The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci and is by Jonathan Spence).

So it is worth considering that every time you layout information (or physical items), you may be helping the user jump straight to the right item, effortlessly, or causing them to stop, scratch their head and wonder what is going on.

Here at AccelaWork, we agree that consistent, logical layout can be key to a successful workflow. We’ve talked about it before on a large scale (such as when it comes to the layout of your office) and on a miniscule scale (such as when it comes to the layout of a business form). But it isn’t the scale of the layout that matters, it’s the amount of inefficiency that an inefficient one can cause. Sure, a hard to read, incorrectly labeled set of room numbers for a hotel may not be the end of the world, and it may not be a reason in itself for you to find a new hotel, but struggling to find a room while carrying around heavy suitcases is the last thing that any hotel guest wants after a long day of work.

It’s more than likely that the hotel management hasn’t even realized how inconsistent this layout is. If they did, then they would’ve likely had it fixed by now. The same problems could be in place in your business. For more information on how to properly identify inefficiencies and inconsistencies, contact AccelaWork today!

Bernie Smith has helped his clients deliver surprising levels of improvement across a wide range of industries over the past 15 years. His mission is to help clients with a repeatable, practical and jargon-free method for generating insightful and clear KPIs and management reports. He understands that most people don’t get excited by KPIs, but believes it’s a curable condition.You can find out more about KPIs on his website.

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