Week 2

Examples of Consistency in Design

Consistency is a principle that can add a lot to the ease of systems. Below are three examples from my life that have elements of consistent design.

Example 1: Television Remote


This is a great example of an external, functional consistency. The remote itself is a universal remote made by Logitech, but the true consistency in this product comes not from itself but other remote controls from pretty much every company. Symbols such as play and pause, the addition of arrows and an enter button and the numbers 0-9 are all common elements in these products. This leads to people knowing the how to use the remote from past experiences. All the different systems share these features to make the learning process much easier.

Example 2: Printer


This Brother printer demonstrates aesthetic consistency in an internal way. Expectations of the printer’s systems are created from images used throughout. The most obvious example are the primary functions of print, fax, scan, copy and photo capture each represented by the same images on the outside of the printer and within the system. This consistent use of internal symbols helps users to relate everything within the printer to one of those aforementioned functions. Again this makes everything within the system easier and thus better designed.

Example 3: Ladder


Ladders can represent all types of consistency. On the external and functional sides one can expect a good ladder to be stable and easy enough to climb. Even when items such as ladders come in a variety of designs (as seen in the picture) consistencies such as these often carry over. While internally expectations can come from both aesthetics and functions. For example, it can be assumed each rung is the same length apart for proper safety while climbing up. All these examples on something as simple as a ladder proves the effectiveness of consistent design.



Lidwell, Holden, and Butler state in their article Consistency that when there is consistency in the design and function of a system, that system is easier to use and learn. There are four kinds of consistency: aesthetic consistency dealing with style and appearance, functional consistency which refers to meaning and action, internal consistency with other elements of the system and external consistency with other elements of the greater environment. The article states that these things communicate expectations of trust and recognition with audiences.

This phenomenon is believed to be a continuation of human beings learning from “integrative unity” from early infancy. That is the way one grows to relate to existing variety in the world. Because of a person’s faith in unity, trust is built up through certain things. Fire burns, a parent brings love, falling down hurts etc. This consistency in life translates perfectly to systems.

Designers have most definitely picked up on this. In this saturated world of products and brands aesthetic and external consistency can bring much needed attention and increases the probability of reaching a target audience. Alex Simonson and Bernd H. Schmitt have this to say on the topic:

“Consumers are bombarded with hundreds of visual and verbal identity elements everyday…and since they cannot possibly notice and pay attention to all the manifestations of a corporate or brand identity, they selectively choose to focus on some of them and ignore others. Consistent expressions increase the likelihood of remembering the expressed identities” (Simonson & Schmitt, 1997)

Perhaps the best example of internal and functional consistency in modern times is website design. Recurring elements in many websites such a logos in the top left hand corners or the placement of site navigation has set up a short list of common conventions. When arriving at a new Web site “users need to determine where they are, what they can expect to accomplish, what controls are available, where the content is located, and what other sections and pages are available” (Horton, 2006) and consistent design across the whole web environment is the best way to achieve this.

Some argue that consistency in design is the wrong approach. Jared Spool argues that thinking about user knowledge is a more important issue and that being externally consistent is taking the easy way out. Either way, the power of consistency has been demonstrated time and time again.



Critto, A. (2000). Consistency: Being coherent. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.

Horton, S. (2006). Apply a consistent design. Retrieved from Universal usability: http://universalusability.com/access_by_design/page_layout/consistent.html

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2010). Universal principles of design, revised and updated. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Rockport Publishers.

Simonson, A., & Schmitt, B. (1997). Marketing aesthetics: The strategic management of brands, identity, and image. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Spool, J. (2005, September 15). Consistency in design is the wrong approach. Retrieved from User interface engineering: http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2005/09/15/consistency-in-design-is-the-wrong-approach/