Importance Of Consistency In Design
People notice consistency, but not announcements. It's everywhere in life, not only in the design area.
McDonald's 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 to begin disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order 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. Whether it's a mobile app where you check the weather or website where you want to find important information. Habit is what keeps you going.
It's easier for users to understand consistent design and in the same time it's easier for development and making changes as well. Good standards can lead to reduced maintenance costs and improved reuse of design and code.
Most interface standards emphasize the syntax of the interface, its visual look-and-feel, but say little about deeper behaviors of the interface or about its higher-level logical and organizational structure. We must have this information in starts that we create.
Obey standards unless there is a truly superior alternative.
You need to have a weighty reason to go against standards when you work on additions to existing design solutions.
Consistency doesn't imply rigidity.
In the same time, you shouldn't be harsh in your craft. You can step aside if it's necessary and it's a part of your experiment. And you want to achieve something with thinking outside of the box.
Sometimes you must bend the rules to best serve your users and their goals. And sometimes even your company's goals.
A river cuts through a rock not because of its power but its persistence.
Conventions - allows us to apply obtained reflexes in different circumstances, use our habits to interact with similar systems, apps, 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. And we tend to use it all the time during everyday routines that we do. It's much easier to not think about something new every time when we use application or website. We don't want to be surprised unless it's something innovative and seriously improve our previous experience.
For example, it's easier for people to understand volume control like this:
But another concept confuses them:
And it can be used on different websites and applications.
If your product works globally you can face with a problem when people with different geography or background can have a different experience with consistent designs.
So make sure that you use appropriate conventions that satisfies most of your target audience. Conventions should be oriented on your target audience.
Making your interface consistent with others that your users are already familiar with is important, bet even more important is making 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 quickly adapt from another feature to the other.
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 atmosphere using 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 just give you the overall understanding of items that we can have here.
However, I have one more item and I want to tell about it in the more extensive way.
Structure And Consistency
Users make little maps in their heads 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. A structure of your product should be clear. So people can navigate it easily.
We have several levels of navigation that allows us to understand structure.
Global navigation - anywhere you might want to go, you can get there eventually.
Local navigation - provides users with access ti 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 on a regular basis (on feedback forms, privacy & policy etc).
All these levels of navigation should be consistent throughout a design. So, use a menu on the same place everywhere. And if you have a difference in the second level of navigation. Try make it consistent.
So, what about opposite side of consistency?
When To Use Inconsistency
I think that 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 where you 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 block to increase conversion. For example, you can have a grayscale interface, but block with your product has unusual eye-catchy color or elements.
People notice something outstanding and we can use this psychology pattern in interface design.
Of course, these are not all tips about consistency. You can find several more. But 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.