I am building a complex system to manage a bunch of data. I am struggling in whether to focus on consistency or flexibility. Or maybe its just the best practice in how these systems are suppose to be built.

Heres the problem. Should users have more than one way of doing things (flexibility) or should I design a system where things can only be done in one way so users wont be confused (consistency)?

For example, if a user wanted to edit a product, they go under manage > edit. But should they be allowed to edit when they go under product page > edit. As manage page is necessary for managing products (not just edit) and product page of course is necessary as well for other users to view that product. This is just one example of many problems I've encountered.

I realize there are pros and cons for both, but which one is considered "best practice"?

  • 1
    I fail to see what consistency has to do with this. Did you mean the famous flexibility-vs-usability tradeoff (aka flexibility-complexity)?
    – Izhaki
    Sep 22, 2015 at 23:12
  • When you mean consistency vs. flexibility, flexibility as in the freedom to allow customisation, that in turn breaks consistency. Like customisability myspace offered and every page ended up being loaded with heavy js animations
    – Blue Ocean
    Sep 23, 2015 at 2:10
  • I don't understand why is one or the other, could you be more specific? For example, can the users change things (like in a CMS with customization features) or the only one making changes is you? If so, keep in mind flexibility isn't an issue with regards to consistency. As a matter of fact, your system's flexibility has to be consistent! If this is not the case, please clarify
    – Devin
    Sep 23, 2015 at 2:55

3 Answers 3


I don't think that users are confused simply by the fact that there are several ways to achieve a goal. I rather think that users expect that several options exist to achieve a goal, just as in the real world.

So I can commute to work on foot, by bike, with car or bus. I'm not confused, but I can make a choice according to distance, velocity, and rain. As another example, I can even enter my car through the passenger door (thanks to the designer who left this opportunity open - though it's getting more difficult with every new car - when this brilliant neighbor blocks my driver's door!).

There is of course a price to be paid when you add multiple ways to a single goal: Sometimes it's difficult to show both actions are actually doing the same thing. I don't recall the examples, but I remember my question "What is the difference between these two actions?" So you have to be careful with terminology and placement. Let the use cases guide your design.

To me, your example clearly is a case to add multiple paths: When I already "manage products" (like deleting, reordering, etc.), I might want to correct a typo I detect. Likewise, while looking at a product, I might spot the typo as well. Why should I have to go to the other place to edit?


Flexibility doesn't have to come at the expense of consistency.

If you can clarify why you need an extra "Manage" section to find the product to edit, I can make this answer a bit more specific. For now it sounds like the IA is not thought through that well. Information Architecture is the discipline of organizing things in a way your users find logical, this also counts for functionality. If you have a good reason to believe users need a manage section instead of directly finding the page and edit it, there is nothing wrong with this extra flexibility. You can keep it consistent by keeping the edit page exactly the same in both situations. And if the manage section is considered the place to go to manage things, keep it consistent by having everything that can be managed to be found there. You see here, adding flexibility doesn't have to mean making it less consistent.


As others have said it doesn't have to be a choice between the two. My suggestion however would be to design for self-evidency.

If it's obvious to users how to achieve a given task, consistency and flexibility become secondary considerations.

You might want to have a look at this question too. It's not exactly the same issue but there is a lot of good background information in there. When designing a form, should I favor consistency over optimal usability for each input?

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