Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s fourth usability heuristic is also one of the first rules of good system design; keep it consistent. Whether you are designing a webpage or creating an expansive software platform, there should be a basic set of rules that guide how things look and how they function. Consistency in both of these aspects is key.
Consistency and Standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
– Dr. Jakob Nielsen, 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design
The basic GUI and design of the system or webpage should be consistent. It is visually jarring for users to go from one page to another and be presented with wildly different color schemes, or page layouts that change radically from previous pages. Many websites started with a typical C-Frame layout, which features links and static information on the right side of the page, a static banner across the top and a static footer at the bottom of the page, forming a basic C pattern. Information that changes as a user interacts with the site is presented in the space near the center of the C. This is still a dominant theme for websites and website maker templates today, although many modern websites are changing to a central layered model.
It isn’t just the look of websites or system pages that should be consistent; function should be consistent as well. For example, if a person using your software platform wants to delete a specific piece of information, decide on a standard procedure and stick with it across the entire platform. If users need to click on a record and then click a delete icon for example, make sure that is the way users will delete pieces of information across the entire software platform. Do not have some pages that use that method, while on other pages users can press delete on their keyboard, while on yet others users can click a remove button without clicking on the information they want to delete first.
The idea behind this consistency guideline is that users should never have to guess how an icon, button or procedure will work on various places in the system. You do not want users wondering if a particular button or icon functions the same way from page to page. Not only does this cause stress for the users and slow down their productivity if they have to wonder how a particular function works, having consistency in your design makes it easier for users to navigate and/or perform tasks correctly, which should be the goal of all designers. You don’t want to encourage user mistakes by turning operations into a guessing game.
UX Passion has a great article on the importance of consistency in design you should check out for more. Then, simply take a look. Once you start looking for consistency on the web, it’s almost impossible to stop.