Design Consistency Guide UI and UX Best Practices

Design Consistency Guide

One of the key design principles, no matter if your designing a mobile app or a desktop one, is to keep your UI consistent. But what does it mean? How do you achieve consistent user interface? Which design decisions you need to make to achieve that? It’s time to explore that.

Good UX design doesn’t come from following UX design best practices. You need to test your product to tell if it offers great UX and fulfills user needs. That’s where prototyping tools come in. With a tool like UXPin, design teams can prototype their product, and then optimize their design through series of iterations and usability testing with real users.

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What Exactly is Design Consistency?

Design consistency is what ties UI elements together with distinguishable and predictable actions, which is key for great product experience and an important thing to consider for UX designers. A way to simplify things is to think of it as a commitment that you make to your users (“whenever you see the light grey button in the pop-up on a homepage, you can assume that it will cancel and the pop-up will close”) so that they can easily interact with your product.

As they become more acquainted and become regular users, they begin to trust the product more and more, which is a reflection of the consistent design. To provide users with a consistent UI, here are UI and UX best practices I’ve found useful for product design.

What are 4 Types of Design Consistency?

There are four types of design consistency that comprise visual, functional, internal, and external consistency.

  1. Visual Consistency
  2. Functional Consistency
    • Interactions: Ensuring that similar actions (like clicking buttons or navigating menus) yield similar outcomes.
    • Controls and Components: Using the same design for similar controls and UI components (e.g., buttons, forms) across different sections.
  3. Internal Consistency
    • Within a Product: Ensuring all parts of a single product or system look and behave consistently, even across platforms.
  4. External Consistency
    • Across Products: Aligning design elements and interactions with other products in the same ecosystem or brand family.

What are the Benefits of Design Consistency?

Design consistency enhances usability by making elements predictable, and it also shortens the learning curve, improves aesthetics, reduces user errors, and strengthens brand recognition by using uniform visual and functional elements.

  • Improved Usability – users can predict how elements behave, leading to a smoother and more intuitive experience.
  • Faster Learning Curve – users familiar with one part of the system can easily navigate others, reducing the need for extensive learning.
  • Enhanced Aesthetics – a cohesive look enhances the visual appeal and professionalism of the design.
  • Reduced Errors – predictable interactions minimize user errors and enhance reliability.
  • Brand Recognition – consistent use of visual and functional elements strengthens brand identity.

How to Achieve Design Consistency

  1. Design Systems and Style Guides – develop and adhere to comprehensive design systems or style guides that outline standards for visual and functional elements.
  2. Component Libraries – use component libraries to maintain consistent design elements and interactions.
  3. User Testing – Conduct regular user testing to ensure consistency meets user expectations and needs.
  4. Documentation and Training – provide documentation and onboarding for new designers and developers to maintain consistency.

9 UI and UX Best Practices for Consistent Design

Start with research

Nothing is more important for a consistent experience than quality research.

This should not be underestimated or hurried. Time and budget are always a necessary consideration in product design. Without either of these, a product would never ship. Although they are important to the process, we can’t lose sight of who actually uses the product, what their customer journey looks like, whether they are desktop or mobile users.

Keep your users top of mind and don’t overlook UX research in the beginning stages of product design planning.

Define user goals

Get into the mindset of a new user. What do they want to accomplish? How will the application help them? List our goals and refer back to these throughout the UI or UX design process.

For example, let’s assume we’re building a travel app. This travel application allows users to select a vacation timeframe and find deals on flights and hotels within their budget. But it’s not just the standard travel site. It connects to your Facebook account, works its magic, and plans the top five vacations based on the content that you’ve shared. The user selects the vacation plan that they like best and all the details are taken care of.

Here are some of the user goals:

  • View vacation options within a specified timeframe
  • Compare different vacation options
  • Select a vacation based on users interests
  • Keep within vacation budget

Now that we know the breakdown of goals, we can design to meet user expectations.

Familiarize yourself with common UI patterns

Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to established UI patterns. Recurring patterns solve common UX and UI design problems.

Of course, UX designers shouldn’t just “copy” the entire layout of another similar web or mobile app. They need to filter and modify the patterns based on specific user goals.

Common UI Patterns  - UXPin for UX Designers

 A typical pattern in eCommerce is a product grid. With this pattern users can easily browse and see product information.

It’s safe to say that patterns have been evolving and users become aware of standard locations for elements. Most users would agree that when they want to search for something, they look for the search bar in the upper center or right since this is a common placement.

Establish design patterns for product UI and UX design consistency

One of the keys to a successful — and consistent — UI is the user performing tasks with the minimum number of actions is. If a task that takes four steps can easily be completed in two, the UI should always be modified for the shorter task flow. UI patterns can help with this… after all, this efficiency is why they became patterns in the first place.

Design hierarchy

Along with design patterns, having an established visual hierarchy of UI design elements does wonders for UI consistency. Whether users are aware of it or not, they instinctively pay attention to the order and priority of the elements they interact with.

When it comes to visuals and the human eye, some elements take precedence over others (bigger sizes, bright colors, etc.), depending on how “noticeable” they are. Think about your screen visuals in terms of what people will see first, second, third, and so on.

This allows UX designers to ensure users find primary functions faster than others, but they can also present secondary and tertiary functions with the appropriate amount of attention.

design Hierarchy - UXPin for UX Designers

UI elements

There is a multitude of design elements that go into an application’s UI, and each makes up the building blocks that form UI patterns. Keep an organized inventory and check that elements are used properly to maintain a consistent experience.

Branding elements

Stay consistent with the overall brand. Typography, logo, correct image styles, brand color schemes, etc. should be reflected in the application, just like the rest of the brand’s properties.

Is the correct logo used? Are branding colors consistent? Does the typeface match the others? Brand consistency helps new projects feel like part of the brand’s family, rather than a black sheep. Style guides usually provide all the information you’ll need.

Branding Elements - UXPin for UX Designers
Branding Elements - UXPin for UX Designers

Making sure colors and typography are on brand gives each of the company’s products a consistent look and feel.

Typography

Elements with the most visual impact like typography should always be “on brand.”

This visual element is especially important, not just for hierarchy, but for the entire UX as well. Changing the sizes, fonts, and arrangement of the text can improve scanability, legibility, readability, and even navigation.

UI components

During user research, become familiar with UI patterns and their components. Knowing how each component behaves, within the pattern and outside it, lets UX designers properly prioritize all elements on the screen without anything slipping through the cracks.

“Components” can refer to any number of elements that make up a pattern, such as:

Let’s say you’re considering adding pagination to long lists so the user doesn’t have to scroll far with long lists.

As you examine the wireframes, you notice that one list has pagination with 20 or more items, while in another part of the application, a list only has pagination with 40 or more items. Which is correct? This example illustrates how making definitive decisions about guidelines is the backbone of UI and UX design consistency.

Templates

If you’re having difficulty standardizing your site or app, try using templates.

Most applications allow them, and because the layout and elements look the same, they streamline UI features across the products. Plus, you can reuse the same UI templates over and over, even years down the line.

Using Templates - UXPin for UX Designers

Pattern library and design system

It may not be user-facing, but it is one of the keys to consistency. Today, many teams have a pattern library or design system as a point of reference to keep everyone on the same page.  Pattern libraries and design systems are the rulebooks that anyone on the team can reference at any time. For team-wide consistency, they are essential.

A pattern library may not be as robust as a design system since it’s limited to design patterns specifically. A design system has more information all around, including helpful documentation about all the UI patterns and various components. A pattern library can also be a subsection of a design system.

Make actions consistent

Everyone loves when an application is user-friendly. It saves time, avoids headaches, and helps users accomplish their goals by eliminating confusion — all requirements for creating satisfied customers.

Consistent actions remove the need for user discovery and therefore make their task flow run more smoothly. If a user knows how to use the functionality in one section, they know how to use it in all sections (as long as it’s consistent).

Users inherently transfer past knowledge to new contexts as they explore new parts of the application. Consistent actions become second nature and eventually, the user can use the application without even thinking. Furthermore, users bring these expectations into new features or aspects of the product that they haven’t explored yet, minimizing the learning curve.

Consistent actions - design consistency - UXPin for UX Designers

 “View” placement is not consistent. On most of the cards, it’s toward the top, but on the collection card, it’s at the bottom. This inconsistency might cause the user to pause for a moment to search for the “View” option, not to mention it undermines their own natural habit-forming processes.  

So what, specifically, should you consider when designing your interface? Ask yourself these questions during the entire process:

  • Do all parts of the application behave the same way?
  • How do interactions work? Are they predictable and consistent?
  • How much discovery is needed for a user to understand this interaction?
Sorting - design consistency - UXPin for UX Designers

The example on the left has inconsistent sorting; not all columns have the option to sort. Users may want to sort data in other columns. The example on the right has consistent sorting on all columns.

Review your content

It’s not just about the visual elements, but also the text throughout the application.

Consistent copy — especially consistent terminology — in each place in the application is another key. Using two different words for the same function makes them seem like different functions, causing a momentary pause in the workflow while the user sorts out the discrepancy.

Consistent copy avoids this confusion.

Content structure

Content plays a crucial role in UI elements, whether something as simple as navigation listings or as complex as product documentation. It’s not just the words themselves, but how to copy text is presented visually, such as body copy, list items, table content, etc.

In particular, pay attention to how content is handled in these areas:

  • Navigation
  • Dropdowns
  • Form fields
  • Validation messages
  • Tooltips
  • Charts
  • Image captions
  • Error messages
  • Loading screens
  • Confirmation pages
  • Product support documentation

Brand consistency in content

You know that feeling when a certain part of an application feels “off.” A lot of times the reason is an inconsistency in the content’s language, for example, if one button says “Logout” and another says “Sign out.”

Even less noticeable inconsistencies can create that “off” feeling.

For the Oxford comma fans out there, something as “minor” as comma usage is picked up subconsciously. After enough of these subconscious flags, the user’s conscious brain starts to notice.

Other writing guidelines such as title case and voice/tone also influence the user’s experience. While title typography is more empirical, voice and tone are a little harder to pin down.  The trouble escalates if most content uses a casual style that clashes with a more formal “brand language.”

Appropriate user defaults

By considering user goals upfront, you can set realistic defaults to reduce the burden on the user.

If the defaults are set to the most popular preferences, the user may not have to make any adjustments at all. Take the date picker on an airline or car rental site. Often the starting default date is sometime in the near future, the most likely choice according to past statistics.

Pay close attention to forms, too; they’re a great opportunity for defaults to reduce the amount of user effort.

Datepicker template UXPin - UXPin for UX Designers

Consistent communication

Search results, form submit messages, error windows — every interaction with your user is communication. For an app to be successful, it must speak to the user and keep them informed on what’s happening. And, as with everything else, the way you communicate should be consistent.

Changes in state and helpful information

Users appreciate feedback: a toggle that changes color to indicate “on” or “off,” for example, or a sound effect to verify a completed action.

Give visual feedback - design consistency - UXPin for UX Designers

Your user should never waste time wondering whether an action took place or not. Form field submissions are notorious for this, but it happens in other areas as well. In situations where it may not be clear, a quick success (or error) message is all you need.

Messages in forms design consistency - UXPin for UX Designers

Play it safe. Even when it’s apparent that the action was successful, a lot of users still prefer a quick confirmation.

Reduce user frustration

The most common cause of user frustration happens when it’s not clear what to do next. Some tasks are not so self-explanatory, but UI and UX designers are often too close to it to notice. Luckily, some instructional text — even just a line or two — can solve the problem.

Instruction in an online form - UXPin for UX Designers

For the same reason, error messages are useful too. While users may not like seeing them, they still need to know what happened and how it can be corrected.

visual cues - design consistency - UXPin for UX Designers

Which Design Tools Help in Maintaining Consistency?

There are several tools on the market that help designers and developers keep consistency. We will discuss three of them. If you want to learn about more tools, you can see our article with Design System Management Tools.

UXPin Merge

UXPin with Merge technology allows design teams to build interfaces with production-ready UI components that can be further used to build the end-product. It ensures that the user interface that you design stays consistent and functional with the end-product that gets developed.

This means that design and development teams can be on the same page throughout the full product development process, from early-stage prototyping to creating fully interactive prototypes, eliminating discrepancies and reducing rework by maintaining a single source of truth.

Merge also allows designers to create fully functional prototypes using actual, interactive UI components, leading to more accurate user testing and a seamless handoff to development. Overall, it speeds up the design process by enabling real-time updates and feedback using the latest components, making it easier to maintain consistency and quickly adapt to changes.

Read about dotSource case of using UXPin Merge in their process.

Figma

Figma is a collaborative design tool that allows teams to create, share, and maintain consistent UI design and style guides in real-time. Designers use it to design interfaces of websites, apps, and other digital products that are consistent and easily shareable with other designers.

Read how Porsche uses Figma and UXPin together to create consistent interfaces at scale: Code or Design – Which is a Better Source of Truth?

Storybook

Storybook is a tool for developers that use it to create and maintain UI components, enabling designers and developers to ensure consistency and proper integration of design elements. UXPin integrates with Storybook, so designers and developers can share coded components as a single source of truth.

The integration works by allowing designers and developers to use real UI components from Storybook directly within UXPin. Here’s how:

  1. Component Sync: UXPin imports Storybook’s components, enabling designers to drag and drop them into UXPin prototypes.
  2. Live Preview: Design changes in UXPin reflect in real-time, using the actual code components from Storybook.
  3. Shared Libraries: Both tools use the same source of truth, ensuring that design and development stay aligned and consistent with the latest UI components.

Read more about the integration: Storybook and UXPin integration.

Level up Design Consistency with UXPin

Consistency in UI is a huge undertaking, and it’s easy for some parts to slip through the cracks. The end goal is, of course, a perfectly consistent and in-sync interface, but that’s not always possible right out of the gate.

For startups, you can try an MVP (minimum viable product). Even if the product starts out with some inconsistencies, your team can iron them out one by one over time once you start receiving feedback.

If you’re making updates to an existing product, it can be more difficult to remain consistent. This is where the right prototyping software comes in handy. UXPin allows you to build interactive prototypes fast and keep them in line with your design system. Try building your prototype with UXPin today.

Build prototypes that are as interactive as the end product. Try UXPin

by UXPin on 24th June, 2024

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