Recently I read TripAdvisor’s Sean Landry: Autonomy breeds ownership over on Invision Blog. It was a really great read and covered some great stuff about encouraging your team to really take ownership of their projects and how that helps produce higher quality work (and work satisfaction). One particular passage stuck out to me …
“Context over consistency. Whenever possible, be consistent and create patterns—regardless of whether you’re working in brand or user experience. However, always question if the situation dictates something different. Knowing when to break the rules is just as important as following them in the first place.”
– Sean Landry, Creative Director at TripAdvisor.
This is something many teams struggle with. When you’re moving at a fast pace and trying to hit deadlines, it’s easy to overlook “minor” inconsistencies. But these “minor” inconsistencies can pile up over time and eventually break your system and create a free-for-all design environment (unless you’re one of those diligent teams that tracks all differences to either test or update in future releases). It create confusing experiences for your users and makes it difficult to reign in over time.
When I joined my most recent team, the product pages were in a state of disconnect. It was mostly due to some testing they had just begun, but the results were in, and the rest of the pages needed to get updated and tested. So I worked with the writer, developer, and product marketing manager to get the new pages up and running so we could see if this new page layout improved the experience for the other products as well (spoiler: it did).
Now that we had a new baseline and knew where we’d been, we were able to move forward and create new goals and hypotheses to test. When it came up that we need to move over to a new (in-house) CMS, I took this as an opportunity to really define a whole system of elements that we could reuse over and over. I audited the existing pages to see what we already had and would need and removed extraneous layouts and elements to get to the core of our visual brand. This made it super easy to create and update pages and make our process more efficient. We could really focus on other details like copy, photography, or any other detail that was important to the goals of the page. This isn’t to say we didn’t deviate or add new elements to our system when situations arose, but it gave us something to start with that we knew communicated our message well.
By sticking to our system and only deviating when the situation made sense, we were able to keep the overall experience consistent for our users. This consistency reinforced patterns and expectations for our visitors about how they would be learning from and interacting with us.
How important do you think consistency in design is? Is it a help or hindrance to your process?