Web Strategies/Consistency?

15th May 2005
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Howdy artistos.

I was streaking around the web like a comet (ha) and found Design by Fire written by a guy who used to work at Adobe (since WAY back in the early 90’s–sad to say that’s way back since it’s only about 10 years ago!) and he goes off about consistency in design. The site is www.designbyfire.com. Check it out, it’s quite interesting!

However, the examples he referenced were just “clean” and not necessarily consistent so I’m confused. What is consistency? Here it is defined:

1. Agreement or logical coherence among things or parts: a rambling argument that lacked any consistency.
2. Correspondence among related aspects; compatibility: questioned the consistency of the administration’s actions with its stated policy.
2. Reliability or uniformity of successive results or events: pitched with remarkable consistency throughout the season.
3. Degree of density, firmness, or viscosity: beat the mixture to the consistency of soft butter.

Do our designs, for print, web or otherwise, need to have a “degree of density, firmness, or viscosity…”? Do we create one standard for colors, navigation and usability and then apply that document-wide? Does each element have to relate to another?

I’m tasked with redesigning, yet again, a corporate website I designed last year, but the same silly parameters apply: “Get it done fast and it just better work.” Well, two problems. Nothing on the web is fast or cheap if you actually do it right. And, the new template was designed by a sales guy in POWERPOINT. Not exactly a great starting point but I’m told it isn’t etched in stone.

My frustration is I designed this site last year Genius Products and it’s okay, though once sales got a hold of it they wanted to show all the products at all times. Makes for a very confusing site! Check out the site and let me know what you think. I came up with a much different site, one with hierarchy. The problem we come across is that sales guys, as a rule, don’t ever place one product above another because the ultimate sales utopia is selling every product to everyone for maximum profit. Just like a designer’s goal is to be able to be totally creative for only our favorite clients, make lots of money and only have to do it once–no changes or redos. Consistency is the middle ground between these two beliefs.

So now it’s my job to translate this powerpoint directive into a professional-looking site.

I called the gal who’s responsible for recoding the site and she’s confused as heck by the plans laid out in the Powerpoint presentation. There’s no concept of the layout of the site in actual dimensions, and there’s more than 20 brands that need to be presented under one company banner. And the site’s for resellers, not customers. You can see the confusion mounting in my brain. Well not confusion so much as this can’t be done quickly or cheaply because all the background code has to be rewritten from the ground up. There’s no easy fix and she can’t do anything until we decide/design what it is we want.

The last thing this sales guy wants to hear is that we need more time to actually create our hierarchy, our consistency of design message, so that we don’t do what we did last year which was to create a site that isn’t consistent and doesn’t really work. The powerpoint I have is a “rambling argument” meant to get the job done fast, but there’s no quality in that directive/brief and it certainly isn’t pretty. The navigation menu has more than 10 items in it! Outrageous to me because of consistency, but necessary to my sales guy because he’s just got to synthesize all this information somehow. I know I can help build the hierarchy to make this site sing.

But, in order to not waste even more money, we need to spend more time getting our outline/plan together. Because how do you get a degree of density or firmness when you don’t spend time whipping the design into a consistency? 🙂 It’s like we want to cook our Thanksgiving turkey at 1000F for 2 minutes instead of giving it the whole day (a few hours? never cooked one before, can you tell?) at 350F. Is consistency a slow burn, that low, crock-pot simmer that makes all the meat and vegetables easy to cut with a fork?

As designers, we are facilitators between varied industries and beliefs in order to communicate a consistent message within a certain time-frame. I’ve been given poo in a powerpoint and have to shine it to a high gloss. How can I convince the sales guy that we really need better ingredients in order to get a consistent website that communicates well? Consistently? How can my style integrate with something totally different, and really, undesigned? Speed, not quality, is going to rule the day here but last year saw us build a site that crashed every other day and that caused us more work than the profit it brought in. This concept of consistency can be money-saving if it’s presented with the added benefit of saving money down the road–no crashes and no “shopping cart is down” messages.

It might seem boring artistically, but we’ve got to have a stable of design ingredients and then utilize those repeatedly to get the job done, and thereby we build a consistent design style. My style is turning out to be a bit digital, clean, with some rough edges and natural elements thrown in–this is mainly dictated by my insanely tight deadline cycles. Clients pay us to follow differing guideline levels in order to get their messages across and sometimes it’s an uphill battle to get them to commit to consistency and other times it’s as easy as eating stew with a fork. I love clients that have a stew-like density and clear parameters! 🙂

My style is starting to come through and maybe that’s because I am starting to design with Consistency? I do wish I had more “art” in my style, but I just don’t do enough hand-drawing to consider myself an artist in the real sense of the word. I’m more a technical artist but it helps me develop products (I learned CAD 2 years ago) and to be involved with developing 3D displays as well. I’m still working on consistency as a system, a series of three or more working parts that together form a machine that fulfills a higher task.

It’s like having 6000 fonts and using only 20 of them regularly. You can’t possibly use them all, you just have to remember the right one to use for each situation. Keeping that information in your mind within easy reach helps you to be consistent. Is being consistent boring? I think it’s working within a framework and getting create results in spite of that. I find that without a framework I get a bit lost and confused. What do you design when there are no parameters and NO limits?!

So. I’m working today on being consistent in my design work…how about you. Any thoughts?


Nathaniel Flick

I'm a Front End Web Developer passionate about usability. My primary specialties are HTML5, CSS3, SCSS, LESS, and jQuery and I am very familiar with Foundation and Bootstrap frameworks. I've worked on top of and with WordPress, Shopify, Rails, Python, and ASP.net/Umbraco frameworks.

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