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Consistency vs. Clarity

Design isn’t just about how a product looks: it’s about how it functions. A product that has good UX is a product that is intuitive to all users, whether they’re new to the space or seasoned veterans. Visual components, interactive media, and written content are all a part of providing that seamless experience, but using these in a consistent and clear way can make the difference between an understandable product and an unusable product.

When consistency and clarity have to battle it out, who wins?

When the light turns green, you expect the car in front of you to move forward. When you press the doorbell, you’re confused if you don’t hear a chime. Interface design is no different: whether we realise it or not, we expect things to work a certain way. Clicking a hamburger icon should result in the menu expanding; signing up to a newsletter should get you a confirmation message in your mailbox.

There’s always room for innovation, but not at the expense of intuition. When designing a product, thinking outside the box and trying new interactions can lead to great experiences: but be thoughtful about what’s worth shaking up. Will putting the contact information in the header make it stand out, or cause the user to search around for it?

Beyond the wider standards of design, consistency needs to be considered on your product’s individual level as well. If you used radio buttons in the onboarding form, can you stick with them in other features? Do all CTAs follow the same colour and text guidelines?

Content, too, shouldn’t be something that the user has to relearn on every screen. Don’t call your form a survey on one screen and a quiz on the next. Again: it’s okay to try new things. But think about the rules and expectations the user's bringing along.

Clarity isn’t the opposite of consistency, but it can come into opposition. Maybe those long paragraphs worked on one screen, but a shortened version with links to more would make more sense elsewhere. Content should be consistent in vocabulary and voice, but clarity wins in length and tone.

If you want a clear answer from this article's titular question, here ya go: 99% of the time, clarity wins. It's important not to confuse the user, to make them feel comfortable, and to offer seamless experience. But (and this is a big but) consistency also plays a huge role in limiting confusion, increasing comfort, and preparing expectations. Let them work together.


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