Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Consistency Sin

Craig Hockenberry:

My answer is something I call “consistency sin”. Understanding the cause lets us avoid similar situations in the future.

Your first reaction to this nomenclature may be, “Isn’t consistency a good thing in user interfaces?”

Absolutely! Colors, fonts, and other assets should be similar within an app. Combined they help give the user a sense of place and act as a guide through an interface. And in many, cases these similarities should be maintained across platforms. There’s no sin there.

But you can get into trouble when this consistency starts to affect the user experience.

There is an article about consistency I have been putting together for months and have not figured out a great angle. I think Hockenberry’s piece is what I was trying to write.

Consistency exists on so many levels: within a particular window or area of an application, within the application, between applications from the same company, between applications on the same platform, within the platform, and between platforms — and then, consistency between how elements look and how they work. MacOS would be worse if every button looked completely different, and it would also be worse if everything looked and worked the same as it does in iPadOS. I feel like the era of MacOS we are in now has strayed over that line. Dialog boxes are harder to read; notifications are worse; translucency makes things harder to read. I have not heard a satisfactory justification for any of these changes, but all of the excuses I have seen boil down to consistency. All of these elements have been updated to be more like the way things look and work on iOS and iPadOS, but I do not think that is a laudable goal unto itself.