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23 Jun 2017

Consistency, Don’t Get Bored With It

Consistency is a key principle of everyday life. This is also true for design. No matter how big or small the problem is that you’re are trying to solve – if you fail to deliver a consistent user experience, you fail your user.

As part of the UX Scotland Conference, we reflected on the importance of consistency in design. Our UX Lead, Andrew, talked about why designing with consistency for your user is a key principle and highlighted some of the tools designers have to make these things possible. Below is a summary of Andrew’s talk, you can find the ‘Consistency, Don’t Get Bored With It’ slides here.

Design consistency benefits your user

  • Design consistency helps reduce the learning curve: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, views, or actions mean the same thing – by designing consistently, a user will learn once and not have to learn again.
  • Design consistency reduces confusion: By sticking to common design patterns that users may have experienced from outside of your product or service, as well as inside your product or service, you can reduce alienation and confusion.
  • Design consistency creates a feeling of familiarity: By keeping things consistent, they remain the same and thereby, become familiar.
  • Design consistency provides reassurance: When you deliver an experience with design consistency, your user becomes comfortable with using your product or service and is provided with the reassurance they need to complete their task.
  • Design consistency builds trust: When a user becomes familiar with your product or service, it allows them to do the thing they needed to do (with no friction) and they feel comfortable. They then begin to trust it.

Design consistency benefits you

The benefits of consistent design don’t have to stop with the user. As designers, we can reap the rewards of designing with consistency:

  • Free yourself from trivial design decisions: If you or your team are designing products or services with consistency in mind, you shouldn’t have to repeat trivial things. If something is done once and done well – repeat it.
  • Save yourself time and money: So much time can be saved if you follow consistent patterns and behaviours when designing things. Imagine, rather than having to keep re-thinking and reassessing whether what you’re doing is the right thing – you have a set of rules and you stick to them.
  • Work effectively across team: By keeping things consistent, there should be a noticeable reduction in questions from your teams. Eliminate questions about the size or colour of a button through consistency.
  • Embed UX culture: By embedding design consistency into your organisation or team, you are also embedding a culture of UX. By adopting consistency as a key principle, you reduce the likelihood of designers or developers creating things in isolation which can lead to an inconsistent and poor user experience.
Andrew Purnell speaking at UX Scotland, 2017. Image: Jane Reid, @janereid73
Image: Snook, 2017

So, what is design consistency?

Design consistency is a systematic approach to designing a user’s experience. So, when creating your user’s experience, you would look at things in a systematic way and be able to divide up your product, website, service, or whatever you’re working on into manageable components and begin to understand how these link together – creating a design system.

You can think of a design system as everything that makes up your product or service.

And what are Design Systems?

In the last few years, Design Systems have become synonymous with software and product design organisations, enabling the often vast teams to have a single source of truth for design and development. If created properly, Design Systems are adaptable, able to grow, and easily changed to suit the iterative approach most of us should be using to deliver products or services.

Design Systems have in one way or another been around for quite a while. In the graphic design field, design systems have been popular since the 1960’s, and probably earlier in the form of printed guidelines such as the NASA and British Rail manuals.

There are, however, problems with relying on these printed and bound design systems. They often only account for the physical things we see or interact with. They are often limited to looking at elements such as logo application, icon usage, and signage. Furthermore, they aren’t able to easily account for changes that occur over time, and thus can put dynamic design projects at risk.

Fast forward 40 years or so and CSS frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap were developed which brought beautiful, tangible but static artifacts into the world of web development, providing reusable code to easily build consistent user interfaces by providing elements like buttons, dropdowns, and navigation styles. These provided a useful platform for designers and developers wanting to build a design system of sorts, which was great although for a while it looked like every website was identical.

Adapt Design Systems to what your team needs

Now, there is a new wave of tools to help you build a dreamy design system that will ensure your product or service is delivered with design consistency in mind. Tools are widely available, such as Brad Frost’s Style Guide Guide – a super useful template which can be downloaded from GitHub or even Design Systems by UXPin.

It is, however, erring on the side of caution when thinking about building a design system. You don’t have to jump into the deep end and develop something is big as Atlassian’s Design System. Consider you and your team as the users of these systems – build only what’s necessary.

  • “Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing”
    Dr. Jakob Neilson