How to Achieve Design Consistency

Using Digital Signature software on a laptop

At our UX/UI Design Agency in XAM, building software people love is very important to us, Design Consistency helps us do this.

Creating a consistent experience is a fundamental element of design. It provides a sense of familiarity, reduces learning time and is the basis of delivering outstanding user experience. While some may feel that worrying about consistency can stand in the way of innovation, that is far from the case. It is by prioritising consistency that innovative design ideas have a chance to come to fruition. When it comes to design, consistency is often the secret to success. The question is, of course, how do you achieve it. 

What is Design Consistency

Before you can work towards delivering consistency in your designs, you need to know what that means. A good way to think of it is as a promise to your users. You are promising that when a user interacts with your design, they will do so with distinguishable and predictable actions and visuals. 

A consistent design is an intuitive one. That means that people can transfer their knowledge across different contexts and learn new things without anything standing in their way. And by being intuitive, it is useful and will improve the lives’ of its users, making them more efficient at the task at hand. 

There are four key ways that a design can be consistent:

  1. Visuals – these are the fonts, sizes, buttons and labelling used in your design.
  2. Functions – these are the controls within the design.
  3. Systems – these are the similarities between different products.

Ultimately, if you achieve design consistency, your users won’t have to learn how your user interface (UI) works, and that means they can get on with executing the task and achieving their goal. 

How to Be Consistent

Being consistent is about replicating the same action or element several times while still delivering on user expectations and allowing them to achieve the task at hand. To achieve that, there are several areas of your designs that you can focus on:

1. Think About Your Choice of Language

Using different terminology to represent the same thing can be confusing. What’s more, muddled messages can greatly influence your user’s perception of your product. You need to consider both the words you use and the tone that they convey. Use the same terms for the same applications, buttons and functions throughout your design. And also consider how you’ll word things like error messages; while you want to alert your user that something has gone wrong, you don’t want it to sound threatening. By keeping the voice and tone consistent, it will feel like one voice is speaking to the user throughout. 

2. Apply Originally Defined UI Design Elements

You need to ensure that UI elements are used consistently across your design. Think about UI elements that are commonly used across all applications such as message windows, menu bars, icons and radio buttons. You want these to perform in the way that your users will anticipate. And, of course, they will need to look the same whenever they appear to avoid any confusion. If you fail to use commonly used visual representations for these elements, you will force your users to have to think, which will slow them down and stand in the way of them performing the desired task. 

3. Follow Design Standards and Conventions

Following design standards and conventions can make all the difference to the usability of your design. It’s not about copying what other people have done and replicating the layout of their websites and apps. It’s about giving your users familiarity and not reinventing the wheel unnecessarily. If they expect things to be in a certain position on the screen, you’re doing your design and its usability a disservice by putting it elsewhere. Make sure menus, logos, and other graphical elements are where your users expect them to be, and they can get on with interacting with your design. 

4. Understand Your Users

When it comes to design, it’s important to give users what they are expecting. That means incorporating the features and functionality that they imagine to be there in advance. This might include booking systems, media playing functionality or social sharing links. And the only way to know what your users expect, want and need is to do your research. While it may slow the design process down at the beginning, it will save you countless hours later on. Get into the mindset of your user, find out what they want to achieve, and you’ll have a better understanding of how your application or website can help them. 

5. Create Consistent Visual Elements

As well as ensuring the functionality of your UI elements is consistent, you should consider how they look. To be consistent, you should use the same fonts, backgrounds and colours and ensure that they work in harmony with each other. Consider creating a visual hierarchy, so the most important things are bigger and brighter than the less important ones. Creating brand guidelines can help you make decisions over colours and fonts along the way and avoid you from choosing something that won’t be consistent with the rest of the design. 

The Benefits of Consistency 

Design consistency is all about making things easier for your users. That means reducing the number of interactions that need to take place between the mind and screen. When achieved, design consistency offers several benefits: 

  • Faster – without unnecessary friction, it’s easier for users to interact and communicate with the interface. As you’re not forcing them to learn new representations or toolsets for each task, the learning curve is much smoother. 
  • Simpler – by reducing the length of the thinking process, you, in turn, remove frustration over what the user needs to do next. By following design standards and conventions, your design will be simpler and easier to use. 
  • Cost-efficient -by using predefined components, you can then spend more time and money focusing on the product and making it better. 
  • Reliable – by giving users intuitive design that is simple to operate, they come to depend on the familiarly that your designs bring. This, in turn, works to build trust and strengthen your brand. 

So, in summary, here are some key things that you should consider if you want to achieve design consistency:

  • Consider your language – keep the voice and tone of your site consistent, and your users will feel like they are being spoken to by one person. 
  • Use defined UI elements – ensure design elements like windows, menu bars, and icons function in a consistent way across your site.  
  • Follow design standards – give your users familiarity by ensuring that graphical elements are where users expect them to be. 
  • Get to know your users – do your research by getting in the mindset of your user, by understanding what they want to achieve you can deliver on expectations.
  • Create consistent visuals – UI elements shouldn’t just perform consistently; they should look the same with colours, fonts and backgrounds carefully considered. 
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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