Consistency within digital product design is what connects UI components with identifiable and predictable behaviours which are critical. Typography, logo, and brand colour palettes (which are often outlined in a company’s brand guidelines) are a set of components that support the overall design consistency.
However, the many stakeholders and rules that define brand guidelines are often absent or appear sporadically when a new digital interface is being re-designed or an existing legacy product is updated. This issue can create a number of roadblocks and problems which affect accessibility, project timelines and UI life cycles. In this article, we discuss the complexities involved, why it’s important to consider and how to remedy it.
Why it’s important
I will now provide a series of scenarios and examples outlining the importance of design language consistency.
Avoiding unnecessary updates or a redesign
A UX agency and product manager(s) may have worked tirelessly for months to curate a new and improved product dashboard. However, the marketing and brand teams were kept out of the design loop prior to creation and the site has gone live or is too far down the line to make any changes. Colours, image styles and typography differ slightly from existing platforms or websites that sit within the company’s portfolio, perhaps because of accessibility considerations or the product teams focusing solely on their own creative direction and not how the product fits into the entire organisation’s brand atmosphere. Another factor can also be that the organisation’s current brand guidelines are in the process of being overhauled in a separate brand refinement exercise which hasn’t been widely communicated.
At this stage, the digital product is left with two options. After a short period of time, look to periodically update the platform with the correct or new brand guidelines; or completely re-design the platform and start from scratch. Both these activities are not only time-consuming but a waste of valuable physical and financial resources.
It is vital that all digital experiences that live within a brands sphere have the same visual language and graphic cues, this helps to inform and guide the user when using the platforms and promotes the brand DNA.
Accessibility vs branding
Accessibility is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must. In the UK, one in five people are classed as living with a form of disability that ranges from impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing. When translated to a website with 1 million users, that’s 200,000 people who would potentially not be able to use the platform. However, accessible UI interfaces don’t always fall in line with brand guidelines. Designers, product managers and branding teams clash over minor UI details that concern their best interests. Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it works.
Marketing and brand stakeholders commonly ask us: “why is this button that shape or this brand colour different?” Our answer is often down to accessibility. Working with a platform that uses a pastoral palette can be particularly challenging. When transferring their brand personality into the UI, the lack of contrast on a white background will fail to meet the AAA accessibility standards. As a result, we have to alter the shade and tone of the colours to be dark enough to work but to visually resemble the brand colours.
Enhance the customer experience
A poorly executed design language has the ability to undermine the consistency of user experiences and prevent the platform from delivering a seamless digital customer
experience (CX) to internal and external audiences. In contrast, a well-deployed design language can allow the new platform UI to slot seamlessly into the product or service’s entire process. The customer’s end-to-end engagement, entry-to-exit, is cohesive and visually consistent. Users trust a product more as they become familiar with the design and interface elements as well as visual cues, which are a reflection of the consistent design, leading to higher conversion and usage rates.
Communication is the key
Feedback should be used continuously throughout the project to ensure the work is executed smoothly and seamlessly. Project teams, design teams and marketing teams should all be involved (depending on the size of the company). Essential stakeholders should feel included and have a voice.
Being an agency, we conduct short and fast design sprints, and come in and start designing from the get-go. In order to truly uncover and decipher what the organisation’s brand personality is, we must solicit input and communicate with the relevant stakeholders continually so they can guide us in the right direction. In addition, by communicating regularly, we can explain our rationale around decisions on page real estate and why elements are of a particular shape and size. Behind all our design decisions are research and theory. However, from the outside looking in, this is not always apparent and if we’re not explaining to the major stakeholders there can be confusion, disconnect and frustration.
The importance of design consistency across all digital touchpoints promotes a brand’s modernity and trustworthiness. Messy and inconsistent digital platforms look unsophisticated and uncared for. Users will quickly look elsewhere leading to increased user drop-off.
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