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We have a debate in the organization (a small startup) on what should be consistent across our two web based products. However, the target user group is different for each product and the use cases are completely different, e.g. use cases are for a different specialty and content.

What are the best practices for consistency across products? Especially if they are different user groups?

We've had internal debates on keeping all of our products the same layout, same font styles, widgets, behaviors, etc. However, since the users and use cases are completely different, I have promoted different layouts for each app (vs a uniform) because one layout cannot meet the needs of the two user groups. But keep the brand consistent across.

Consistency defined by the following from smashing ux design:

  • Info Architecture / Layout
  • Fonts, colors and styles
  • Behavior Consistency: Pattern reuse
  • Behavior Consistency: unified nomenclature, reuse
  • 3
    Your first paragraph says it all: different target demographies and use cases. If those two products were to be used together, as part of a process, then yes, consistency would be good. But if they're so unrelated, you need to weigh in the usability of this consistency. (UX layman speaking, that's why it's a comment) – Kroltan Jan 6 '15 at 11:10
  • Don't spam your own question (or any post at all, for that matter). – Kroltan Feb 14 '17 at 0:06
6

There are many different levels of consistency that are applicable in UX design, so you need to define what the goals are and align the strategies so that you can get consistency where you need it, and help differentiate the experience where required.

For example, from the business perspective you could be talking about the brand consistency and identity that is linked to the company or organisation. The brand consistency is generally on a visual and content level, but it sets the general look and feel for the products and services under the brand. A very large organisation could have more than one brand (one of which is the corporate branding of the organisation), so there needs to be a high level strategic business decision on how the brands relate to each other.

From the design perspective you are probably talking about the visual, content and interaction design consistency. Some of the consistency comes from the underlying technology used to build the products or services, so ensuring that there is a solid and adaptable frontend development platform and minimizing the impact of legacy systems will go a long way to ensure that there are as little constraint in creating a uniform design and development guideline for your suite of products and services.

From an individual product perspective you are looking at the overlap and cross-section of users for the different products and services with respect to the brands (if applicable). I think this is where the biggest different will come from, but more so from the presentation layer of the visual perspective (colours, logos, fonts, etc) rather than the underlying content and interaction that are derived from a common design framework.

I usually encourage the practice of maintaining a series of documents that outline the purpose and relationship between the standards and guidelines developed for the company, so that these types of questions can be answered by UX designers and developers working on different projects.

  • Do you good examples of standards and guidelines developed for an organization? I will soon be on a quest to create one myself, would love some ideas to jump start how I organize it (with structure conversations with my team). – Melissa Acosta Jan 6 '15 at 22:28
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    I like the simplicity of Thoughtbot's playbook (Google Thoughtbot playbook) and the flexibility of Google's material design to cover both digital and physical design. It is a way to essentially combine the brand, visual, content, interaction and development guide into one document to rule all design processes. You can also review Atlassian's Development/Design Guidelines for inspiration. – Michael Lai Jan 6 '15 at 22:37
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If different users are using the different applications, then from a user's perspective, consistency across the applications is pointless. It's irrelevant to them.

So, to the user, it doesn't matter.

If the same users used both apps, then there may very well be reasons to introduce consistency, but even then, it'd depend on a lot of factors.

From a business processes perspective, there may be a lot of reasons to introduce consistency simply to streamline design, development and maintenance.

4

I would say this is purely a "branding strategy" and less of a UX strategy. It's possible to achieve some level of branding consistency without compromising the UX.

1

My first thought was that this is about brand.

But it's not just about brand - unless brand includes human computer interaction. Which it doesn't. Or does it!?

I've worked with a client, a big company, who had over the years been on a bit of a spending spree, buying up other companies and products to extend their own portfolio into a complete range of software. Some related, some not. Some user-base overlap, some not.

Then this company had a problem - a suite of products - none of which look the same, feel the same, behave the same.

Of course they have a monumentous task to bring everything into line so that:

  • someone looking at their suite of products could identify them as from the same supplier
  • someone using one product could immediately be familiar with another
  • economies of scale could allow efficiency in continued development, sales, support and maintenance
  • silos could be broken down and become collaborative knowledge sharing teams
  • data formats could be shared
  • cross product communication (import export) could take place

The list could go on...

Somewhere in that list is the bit about brand consistency, but brand isn't just the colour of the box and the font on the back, although that's essentially the first and easiest thing they had to get consistent.

I like my metaphors, so think of your products as the soil and the brand as the plants that grow in the soil. Brand is a deep rooted vein that runs right through the product, deep and broad. Brand grows from day one. The soil is stronger as a result.

But it's almost impossible to take a bunch of products (different soils) and insert the brand afterwards. Superficially you might see the brand on the surface, but it won't take root easily, and it takes a long time to get that network of roots built up.

People use products. A truism. They might use the product all day every day. They invest time and energy in however you built the interface. That interface has a style, a feel, an emotion that the user has to live with. For the users, that is all about the brand, because that's surely how they will think of your business.

This isn't to say that two elements of the interface have to be juxtaposed in the same in each product. Two trees growing in the soil don't have to always be next to each other - that's boring and restrictive - but they do have to be recognisable as the same trees and they do have to be able to grow.

Some users may never use another of your products, but some might. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow... maybe when you're not such a small startup. Maybe when you wish you'd made conversations about and between products easier for your users, your sales team, your designers, your marketing team, your developers, your management, your critics, your followers and your brand.

Because it's not just users who interact with the products. It's every damn person you can think of.

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