Souza, F., & Bevan, N. (1990). The use of guidelines in menu interface design: Evaluation of a draft standard. Proceedings of the IFIP TC13 Third International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 435-440. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=725751
This article reported that only few designers religiously follow design guidelines. For this reason, the authors evaluated the extent that designers are able to use such guidelines to offer new improvements in clarity and efficiency.
By developing the guidelines further, it would help improve accuracy and present information in a way that makes them more usable. However, refinement doesn’t mean that designers would necessarily use them in their interface design processes.
Three interface designers were given a set of 87 guidelines in which they marked any difficulties or terms they found unclear. Later, they were observed during a study in which they were to identify and redesign problems using a whiteboard, but were encouraged to use the guidelines. At first they were not obligated to follow them, but were asked to think aloud their reasoning. Afterwards, they were told to change the new interface by applying all the guidelines one by one.
91% of guidelines resulted in errors with at least one designer, however only 11% of the guidelines were actually violated by their new design. The authors found that the designers tended to misinterpret the guidelines and mainly focus on prior designer experience. Examples the paper provided show lack of clarity for conditions and nature of guidelines and difficulties with certain terms.
As a designer the results were not surprising. Personally, I often rely on past experiences rather than the clarity of guidelines. I also think that guidelines are just that– guidelines: encouraged to be followed but you should know when they can and should be broken.
The difficulties the designers had were also relatable. For example, reading about the design process for class and applying them later in class is a completely different matter. I often find myself not knowing how to effectively apply a process until experiencing it firsthand.
I would say that clarifying guidelines is a good proactive and should be done, but this study revealed that following them isn’t completely necessary to make an exceptional design.