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We have a cloud product which has many different apps within that. The apps can be accessed using the app launcher in the UI (Think of it like Google Apps or Office 365). Each app has unique features and has different use cases. However, the target user group is same for all the apps.

We have our own design guide and it has styles for the most common UI components.

I am putting together a design for a new app in the product, in which I wanted to try out a different layout while absolutely conforming to the design guide on the visual elements except for the layout. Because we wanted to make the app modal-less and also felt that not to waste the real estate on the left sidebar for just 4 menu items. Instead, we have iconified the menu items (with labels) and have shrunk the left sidebar and introduced a right pane to view more details/add/edit details etc., Thus avoided modals/popups. The stakeholders are happy.

However, there's a debate in the organization that the layout should be consistent across the product. My argument is that each app (within the product) can have a different layout depending on the nature of the application and most importantly for ease of use. Case in point, I am referring to Google apps and Office 365. Google apps have used different layouts for different apps while they are in line with Material design guidelines. Likewise, Office 365.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my views? Do you know or have you come across any other apps that you can refer?

--Updated --

When I refer to Google Apps, I mean these, not just Google docs and sheets...the entire suite. YouTube, Maps, Drive, G+ etc. They all look entirely different in terms of look and feel (while adhering to Material Design Guidelines) but still carries the Google brand, isn't it? Google Apps

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TL;DR: One complete design will never perfectly fit multiple products. I think you are justified in making modifications to fit the needs of one product.

That being said, successful suites of apps share common UI and UX elements.

The benefits of shared UX:

  • If a user is familiar with using one app, they will feel at home in another. This isn't just a UI/UX benefit to the user, but a marketing benefit for the product
  • Software engineers can standardize and reuse UI code libraries. Similarly, UI updates take effect across multiple applications
  • Streamline UI designs and wire framing for new interfaces

Some example interfaces you should consider standardizing:

  • Top menu navigation and structure
  • Look and feel of buttons, check boxes, etc.
  • Settings or Preferences menus
  • Dialog menus
  • OK/Cancel button ordering
  • Product logo font or style
  • Install/Uninstall procedure

Some areas you don't need to standardize:

  • Interfaces where the commonly used design inhibits the UX of the feature
  • Main window UI (e.g. blank page for word processing, grid for spreadsheets)
  • Application-specific menu options and buttons
  • UI color scheme

You mention Google Docs and Office, which are both great candidates for my above points.

docs sheets

Update:

I think this entire question may already have an answer here. The answers echo some of my points, but might be more focused to your app-product inquiry.

Here is a source listed within that question.

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    Share what it make sense to share; but make each app as "individual" as it needs to be to do its job well. – TripeHound Sep 5 '17 at 11:50
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As an App is built to serve a certain purpose it will have it's own layout. The layout of the App is mostly driven by the way the user will get his task done. Similarity in the layout of different apps might come through similarity in their purpose.

Different editor app (e.g. MS Word or LibreOffice Writer) have a lot in common as they help to solve the same problems. In this case editing and formatting texts.

You already have a UI Guideline and I think you also have some kind of Corporate Guidelines which define rules for the accessability and color and so on.

To have different layouts for different apps in the same product portfolio is totally rational.

You may think of vehicles for different purposes, e.g. a car, a bus, an excavator or a truck.

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Your example of Google Apps illustrates how task-oriented layout can coexist usage and branding standards.

There's no mistaking the layout of MS Word for Excel, but the color values,ribbons, fonts, tabbed menus and footer display controls demonstrate that each is, for better or worse, a Microsoft Product.

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