The Principle of Consistency
Being consistent in definitely easier said than done. It takes practice, hard work, and paradoxically, more consistency. The topic of consistency in design and life popped into my mind as I was shuffling through the pages of Universal Principles of Design, co-authored by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. According to the book, consistency is “the usability of a system is improved when similar parts are expressed in similar ways.” After reading much about the principle of consistency, a light switch in my head clicked. I realized that there is so much overlap between design and how we live our lives. Using a principle of design such as consistency, we can ultimately design not only better products, but also a better way of living for ourselves.
Consistency in Design
Most of you may know about how paramount being consistent in design can be. Consistency is no doubt drilled into you when you’re in design school, and is understood to have the ability to make or break your product. Being inconsistent in your designs often suggests that your work is unprofessional and can often lead the user towards being confused about your design and its functionality.
However, the principle of consistency can be broken up into different areas, in order to define all that it can do for a design. Here, let me enlighten you.
This type of consistency refers to consistency in the style and appearance of things. An example of this would be a company using a certain color scheme, font and a graphic for their product or brand. Maintaining aesthetic consistency enhances recognition and has the ability to set emotional expectations. For example, companies like Apple has immediate recognition from customers because of their consistency in their brand and its logo. People have familiarized themselves with the simple Apple logo, and know that it is associated with quality, professionalism, prestige.
This means the consistency of meaning and action. With functional consistency, the usability of a product is improved, as well as making it easier for users to learn how to use it by using their existing knowledge about how a certain design functions. One example of this is the play, forward, and pause button on a remote, that is now used on various products. Because there is a consistent use of these symbols with the certain functions, it has enabled people to use their existing knowledge when using new devices, and in return makes it easier to learn and use.
Internal consistency refers to consistency with other elements in the system. An example would be that signs in a store are consistent with one another. Internal consistency employs both functional and aesthetic consistency in order to create trust with people by suggesting that thought was put into the design, and it wasn’t just randomly thrown together. It shows professionalism and in turn, elicits a positive response from people.
Finally, we have external consistency, which is the consistency with other elements in the environment. A good example of external consistency would be the G Suite by Google. Because of its external consistency, a user can learn to use Google Docs or Gmail, and familiarize themselves with other apps in the G-suite because of its consistency among its different products. This type of consistency extends the benefits of internal consistency across multiple independent systems, which is often hard to do because different systems rarely follow common design principles and standards.
Consistency in Life
My father always reminds me that I am my own product, and not only do I get to design the way that I am and the way that I live my life, but I get to market to the world that version of myself I create. This is where we begin to see the overlap of consistency in design and one’s life. Consistency is important in all aspects of life. You have to be consistent in the work that you do, so that it is always at the same level, even regardless of what that level that is to a certain person. If you do great work consistently, or even bad work consistently, being consistent is an achievement in itself. However, we are all designers in a way, because we have the ability to design our lives to fit our expectations of ourselves. Due to this, we can change the level and consistency of our work at any time, whenever we feel like it.
Like a product, we must market ourselves in a consistent way to the world. This means our aesthetic and appearance should be consistent. If we are typically a clean and tidy person, and would like to be perceived that way by society, then we must be consistent with how we groom ourselves. We have the ability to shape how we are perceived by others and consistency is one of the ways we can develop a sense of identity and standing with people. This principle also transcends into behaviors as well. We should be consistent with how we treat people, and not change our character depending on the person we are interacting with. Again, consistency!
By now, you are probably fed up with how much I’ve even just mentioned consistency, but it is really an important concept in design, and even in life. Consistency allows us to keep the order in things, but that doesn’t mean that the rules of consistency can’t be bent. You should be able to do things outside of the box, and be different every once and a while because after all, that’s what makes life interesting. Consistency pushes us to keep working hard, and push our limits to be an even better version of ourselves. Consistency combined with hard work and determination are said to be the keys to success. After all, they say drops of water make an ocean, and if you don’t consistently fill the bucket up with water, you’ll never reach that ocean.