Being flexible is important in many areas of life. Being physically flexible helps prevent injuries. Flexibility in your thinking allows you to adapt to new circumstances with much less stress than those who are more rigid in their views. Flexibility on the web or in a software platform is important as well.
Flexibility and Efficiency of use
Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
– Dr. Jakob Nielsen, 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design
Think of the last time you had to learn a new software platform, or even a new operating system. For me, that was when I upgraded to Windows 8.1 from Windows 7. During the same conversion, I also upgraded my authoring software from Captivate 6 to Captivate 9. There was a definite learning curve on both fronts. Though I quickly figured out how to keep my standard desktop view similar to what I was used to, the tiled style of the Start menu still makes navigating around a bit trickier than normal. (On a side note, I maintain the tiled look is nice if you have a touch screen device…but if you are using a standard mouse it makes much less sense.) In Captivate, several “shortcuts” were added for common functions, which is good. But the functions they chose have multiple sub-functions under them, which requires accessing them from the button that is supposed to save you time; as you might expect, this is less of a time saving feature than an annoyance for veteran users.
Once you are an experienced user, you begin to see the system differently. You use the system more efficiently, and begin to see areas for further improvement. This is where flexibility comes in. Tutorials and tips are fine for beginning users, but they only slow experienced users down. To accommodate for this, the system should be equipped to handle things that make the system faster to use.
For example, if the same information is frequently entered into fields on a screen, does the system allow you to create a template in order to save time on data entry by pre-filling those fields with the correct values? It should, because it allows experienced users to gain more efficiencies in the system, while at the same time not hindering newbies who are just learning the ropes. Is navigation customizable? If screens are frequently accessed together, can this be selected to default? If so, is a bypass button present to allow users to skip a commonly accessed screen in the unlikely event that it isn’t needed?
All of this allows users to use the system in the way that makes the most sense for them, allowing them to quickly finish their tasks and move on to the next thing on their plate. This makes happy users, and happy users are some of the best advocates you can have.