Let's sort this out!

A common usability problem that we've seen in many of the systems that we've evaluated is that default sort settings are the same for every list

Most of these systems seemed to have an ascending alphabetical sort (Things are sorted from A to Z) for all or most of the lists of items that are provided.

Developers often tell us that they set the sort order the same in each list so that there is a consistency across the application.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a situation where consistency reduces the usability of most any complex system. Each list of items should have it’s own default sort order that reduces the amount of actions and decisions required to correctly choose what the user is searching for.

Each default sort across the entire application should be carefully examined and set to minimize user action while also maximizing efficiency.

During a recent usability evaluation we conducted, the an Electronic Heath Record (EHR) presented the user with a list of “Common Medication Allergies” and they were to select a medication that their patient was allergic to. (Section 170.315(a)(8) Medication allergy list)

The list was sorted, as were most lists, in ascending alphabetic order. Penicillin is one of the most common drug allergies, but because the default sort was not optimized based on frequency of allergy, the user had to scroll down the list in order to find and add the Penicillin allergy.

Sorting a list of common allergies by the frequency of the allergy makes way more sense.

Look at every list that is presented to your users and determine what would be the best way to sort that list to minimize the amount of mental effort, and user action.