The Importance Of Consistency In Design
People better notice consistency, not announcements. It's everywhere in life, not only in the design area.
McDonald's (I know it's a bad example) looks the same in different places, cities, countries, and all over the world. This company deliberately tries to standardize stores and what employees say to customers. So everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines.
The foods at some chains are specifically engineered to deliver immediate rewards. For instance, the fries are designed for beginning disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centers to light up. And your brain to lock in the pattern. All the better for tightening the habit loop.
Enough about food, and let's talk about consistency in design and interfaces.
Motivation is what get you started in using any of interface. A motivation can be something like solving a specific problem, getting an information or an updated about something. Basically, it can be anything that people deal with in the real world.
Whether it's a mobile app to check the weather or a website where you'd like to find important information, motivation as a cue and the right habits are two pillars of a successful user experience.
It's easier for users to understand consistent design, and, at the same time, it's beneficial on the technical side of things and making changes in the future.
Good design standards can lead to reduced maintenance costs so that you need to invest less time and effort to make minor changes. For example, you can use a page template or one of them if you want to add a web page, and you might not need any help or technical skills if the design you have is consistent and systematized.
Most interface standards emphasize the syntax of the interface and mostly its visual look and feel. However, those common standards have little about user behaviors or design logic and organizational structure.
We must think about it and document this information from the beginning so that everything that was done visually makes sense, and it's easy to go back and update things if necessary.
Obey standards unless there is a truly superior alternative.
It would be best to have a weighty reason to go against standards when you add existing design solutions.
Sometimes, it totally makes sense to ditch the rules and go crazy about the design. Perhaps the best example is when you're creating a design for a new campaign or a promotion.
You don't always have to follow the rules and guidelines, but it's easy to use them and design things consistently. At the end of the day, there are always exceptions to rules.
Consistency doesn't imply rigidity.
You shouldn't be harsh in the way you do things. You can step aside if it's necessary and do it as a part of your experiments. Thinking outside of the box often helps to refresh the design and do things in a creative state of mind. Also, you can be creative by mixing the existing design components and design rules. It's not always a completely different approach that goes against everything that already exists in design.
Sometimes you must bend the rules to serve your customers and their goals best. Sometimes you need to do that to better achieve the company's goals and milestones.
A river cuts through a rock not because of its power but its persistence.
Conventions allow us to apply obtained reflexes in different circumstances and use our habits to interact with similar systems, apps, and websites. People become exhausted when they have to deal with something new in their life. So, a different approach should have clear benefits.
We all have some kind of autopilot inside us that allows us to do things without overthinking them. And we tend to use it all the time except when we really need to make an important decision or generate creative concepts.
It's much easier not to think about something new whenever we use an application or website. We don't want to be surprised unless it's something innovative and seriously improves our previous experiences.
If your product has a global user base, you can face problems when people with different geography or backgrounds have different experiences with consistent designs.
So make sure that you use appropriate conventions that satisfy most of your target audience. Conventions should be oriented toward your target audience.
Making sure your interface is consistent with your users is important, but what's even more important is to make your interface consistent with itself.
Conceptual models (for the features of the product) — can help you ensure internal consistency. If you have two features with the same conceptual model, they are likely to have similar interface requirements. It allows users to adapt from one feature to another quickly.
Lack of consistency can bring on a lack of interest.
But it's not the only design principle. Good design is about making trade-offs. Sometimes consistency may take a back seat to other good design principles. So make sure that you take into account business purposes and user needs.
Now, let's go more specific and talk about...
Areas Of Consistency
We have several of them and even more. I'll highlight the most common areas like:
Interface elements - header, footer, sidebar, menu, and navigation.
Design concept - graphic elements, colors, fonts, and overall look and feel.
Content - giving enough related materials to your users, create an atmosphere using a specific style or area of topics and content.
Interaction and animation - user should feel comfortable in each next interaction with your design. No big surprises, just building nice long-term relationships.
Cross-platform solutions - build a solid user experience, not solutions for different platforms.
You can find more areas and be more specific here for your product. I will give you an overall understanding of the items that we can have here.
However, I have one more item, and I want to tell you about it in a more extensive way.
Structure And Consistency
Users make little maps in their minds when they visit websites or use applications, just as they do in supermarkets and libraries.
You can notice the structure in anything that you interact with. The structure of your product should be clear. So people can navigate it easily.
We have several levels of navigation that allow us to understand the structure.
Global navigation - anywhere you might want to go, you can get there eventually.
Local navigation - provides users with access to what's nearby in the architecture (parents/children).
Supplementary navigation - provides shortcuts to related content.
Contextual navigation (inline navigation) - embedded in the content of the page itself.
Courtesy navigation - provides access to items that users don't need regularly (on feedback forms, privacy & policy, etc.)
All these levels of navigation should be consistent throughout a design. So, use a menu in the same place everywhere. And if you have a difference in the second level of navigation. Try to make it consistent.
So, what about the opposite side of consistency?
When To Use Inconsistency
The most obvious way is to be inconsistent when you want to draw attention to a single, specific element or part of an interface.
For instance, you have a showcase area to present new comings, hot deals, or top categories in your eCommerce shop. To draw attention to this area, we can use different advertisements in this block. So each banner has its own style and colors.
Or maybe you want to highlight action blocks to increase conversion. For example, you can have a grayscale interface, but the block with your product has unusual eye-catchy colors or elements.
People notice something outstanding, and we can use this psychological pattern in interface design.
Of course, these are not all tips about consistency, and you can find a lot more.
The main point here is to understand it on particular examples. And find your way to use this knowledge in your product or products of your clients.