When I talk to my clients about developing great products that offer fantastic User Experience, many of them ask me why, when and how to go about doing it. The most frequently asked question from customers is “what is that one thing that makes or breaks great user experience?”. My consistent response to them has always been one simple word that truly wields the real power. Yes, it is “Consistency”. That is the mantra for creating great products and services that stand the test of time, offering delightful experiences to customers and users! However, this by no means is a quick-fix, short-cut approach to creating successful products and services. In this post, I shall touch upon the important role consistency plays in offering compelling experiences to your customers and users.
Think different, but be consistent
In the constantly changing business and technology landscape that we are living in today, it is imperative that you have to stand out from the competitive me-too products and services in the crowded market place. There is a growing need for businesses and individuals to think and act different. This also works when you wish to develop a new product, concept or idea and especially with the start-ups. It is indeed the hallmark of good startups to be able to think differently from the others to cut the clutter and make their presence felt. However over a period of time, the product or service gets adopted and it gains sufficient market penetration and user acceptance. At that stage, having consistency in presentation and overall experience becomes critical for the long term success of the product.
Consistency – experience and expectations
What does consistency mean in a product development context? Does it mean repetition, cliche and mimicking the same, always and in all ways? No, on the contrary being consistent helps your users to focus on the right areas in your products so that they derive optimal usage experience. Consistency can be seen as an antidote to monotony and often the positives of being consistent far outweighs the negatives of being routine and repetitive. Do not restrict consistency to just one specific product of yours, but broad-basing it across the products in a product line would help your customers and users. Consistency though largely is a broader concept, does vary to some extent based on the users’ culture and geography. The concept of “business” has remained the same all through the centuries. Customers and clients raise a PO (Purchase order) and vendors propose and offer their products /services and then raise an invoice/bill towards the products or services offered. Customers then make payments to vendors against these invoices. This is a consistent way of engaging in business and doesn’t vary from country to country and also does not change with the times.
Sample this as a proof of why I think that consistency is of a great help to delivering great experience. People from across the different parts of the world have been driving cars over the last few decades. There have been a lot of variants like petrol and diesel, differences in engine capacity and volumes. Cars do come in different models, sizes and shapes - sedans, SUVs, hatchbacks and so on. They also differ in the transmissions like manual and automatic. The steering wheel could be on the left or right side of the car, depending on which country you drive. However, no matter where you are driving, what type, model, size or shape of the car, the pedals for brake, clutch and accelerator (also called gas) are always in the same place and in the same order. From left to right, it will be clutch, brake and accelerator and its no doubt that this is what simplifies the driving experience for most of the car drivers in any part of the world. This is just one example of how being consistent helps the users to adopt the products quickly to their context, expectations and experiences formed.
Why be consistent?
Consistency when used in the right manner has the power of giving freedom to your users. It ensures that your users put their focus on the goal rather than the medium. I like to draw an analogy for this with the cinema screen and the projected movie. Consistency in your products is akin to audience watching the movie and enjoying themselves without getting distracted and disillusioned looking at the screen beneath the movie. It makes the experience smooth and lends flow and fluency to what the users look, learn and do within the product.
Let us look at some of the benefits of consistency
- Is shaped on the prior experiences of users
- Helps direct users’ attention
- Sets the expectations of users
- Delivers stability and safety of users, in a few instances
- Aids users in strong brand and product association
Consistency doesn’t kill creativity
Quite a few people think that consistency kills the creativity and new ideas. I would argue that consistency doesn’t affect the innovative or imaginative thinking. Innovative product companies like Apple, Google implement consistency across their entire set of offerings. You can use standards and design principles as the basis for your product. These are the foundation based on which you should architect, design and develop the product. These are often sacrosanct and non-negotiable. Next in the order of priority are guidelines which are like rules of thumb. They are not prescriptive, but provide direction to what should be incorporated and how. But compelling user experience doesn’t stop at this level. Only when you start referring to heuristics and patterns, can the product start delivering delightful and superlative experiences to users. I drew the diagram below to bring out the main points.
How to incorporate consistency
In the context of product development, consistency translates into the overall user experience and not just the superficial visual design. You need to look at all the various dimensions that contribute to the overall experience and delight of users. The following diagram sums up how you can lend your product a consistent experience…
Through the optimal use of consistency, user should be able to feel that he/she knows:
- What I can do with this product
- Where I am now, where I can go from here and how I can go
- Why something works the way it does
- What a particular element means when it is in of a certain colour, shape and size
- How I can press, click, tap an element to get what I want it to do
Hope you find this post helpful. As always, please feel free to drop in your comments to help improve the quality and usability of my blog posts. Until next time, ciao!