One Size DOES NOT fit all

I was at a presentation the other day where a developer was presenting some training related to a new web application that they have created. Many of the screens he showed reminded me of one of the many sayings that I’ve used a lot in my UX career, “One size does not fit all.”

The screens that I noticed were pop-up dialog boxes that were always the same size, no matter what the content. Sometimes the dialog was too big and there was an awkward amount of empty space, but most of the time the dialog was too small, forcing the user to expand the dialog to be able to see the items at the bottom.

I remember filing countless bugs over the years on the exact topic. (See also: How to write and file a usability bug) My favorite from way back was a dialog that for some reason was set to display 10 items. The dialog was to allow the users to select one or more months of the year. In order to select either November or December, the forced the user to scroll down.

How hard is it to make a minor change to the size of a dialog box, so that the content fits right away? My guess that some of the users might not see fields that are below the bottom of the dialog. What if one of those fields is a required field? (That would be a bad design, but) When the user selects save (or submit) they will get an error message that a required field was missing – a field that they never saw.

One size does NOT fit all, and although it is important to be consistent in an interface, there are exceptions.