Adding consistency to a user interface is certainly a best practice. But it has become an umbrella term often rattled off by executive stakeholders with little understanding of exactly where consistency matters. It’s phrase that has become a victim of “scope creep”.
What consistency is
Consistency is important at the micro level. Interactions should have patterns that the user can follow. Similar tasks should have similar flows. Feedback and messaging should follow a well thought out and consistent. pattern. Feedback and messaging are one of my favorite aspects of UX. Communicate state and accomplishment to users in a recognizable, and regular way. This is the correct application of consistency. Consistency beyond the micro level has little impact…
What consistency isn’t
”Consistency is the spice of life.”
Um, No it isn’t. Users don’t connect to a site that is so patterned that changes are in recognizable. They need a difference in pace, style or layout to let them know they have arrived at a new modality in their user journey.
Consistency does not mean make every grid, color and element placement on every page exactly the same. When apps look like this there is no sense of difference. An app becomes a soviet housing project. Bland boring and oppressively ordered.
Even button placement, (I have argued this one)… Don’t be afraid to change the placement of an action button (if need be!).
If you take some one to a different task that needs a different pattern. Don’t avoid the new pattern because the button will be in a different place. Apply whatever construct leads to results, even if its not like other places on the site.
When you add variations to a site or app, users attach meaning to them based on changes in the design. They will become cues that something different is offered or expected of them.
Variations can even offer users more than one way to get something done. Different users can attach to a layout that appeals to them.
A good example that comes to mind is http://ui-patterns.com/. The home page offers a way to discover patterns that is gallery like. Click the design patterns menu button and the same info is organized in four column lists. http://ui-patterns.com/patterns. I prefer that page and go to it immediately when I visit the site.
The bottom line is that I encourage designers to not over apply the consistency term. Be consistent in providing solutions or direction but remember variation to your styles, layouts or flows allows for more delight and meaning.