Consistency: An Underutilized Super Power

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The usability of a system is improved when similar parts are expressed in similar ways.

Thinking is energy. Good design reduces the amount of energy a person has to input to use the entity.

Why Consistency is Powerful

That’s why consistency is so powerful. Little actions over time tend to amount to huge outcomes. Much like the Power of Compounding. If you invest money over time with a decent interest rate, over the years the money will grow exponentially.

Same can be said in terms of your health.  How many of you have failed to reach your ideal physique? I have a friend who is smart. He thinks and over thinks everything to the finest detail. He’s read hundreds of books, journals, blogs, you name it and is probably in the 99% of health knowledge…but he’s still out of shape…how could that be? He’s not consistent. I’d rather know 10% of what he does but do something physical everyday no excuses because I’d be in better shape. I might not get there as fast or as optimally, but by putting in the consistent time and effort, I’ll get to the end result.

I feel the same is true with cognition. I’ve heard that we have a base level of intelligence, but correct me if I’m wrong in the comments. However, a base level means nothing if it’s not used to learn new things. A powerful computer with crap software is an expensive pile of junk.  The same should be said with our brains. They need ever-improving software to be utilized effectively for all of life’s challenges. The best way to do that is to follow Charlie Munger’s advice: Go to bed smarter than you woke up. It’s this consistency that allows you to earn that exponential increase of brain potential.

4 Kinds of Consistency

  • Aesthetic: Consistency of style and appearance.
    • Examples: Brand design and uniformity
      • Coca-Cola (refreshment and joy)
      • McDonald’s (you know what you’ll get)
      • Porsche (when you see this outline, what instantly pops in your mind? Expensive, sexy, etc.)
    • Enhances recognition, communicates membership, and sets emotional expectations.
  • Functional: Consistency of meaning and action.
    • Examples:
      • A traffic light that shows a yellow light before red.
      • Play button on your music player.
    • Using design norms allow for less confusion and frustration. Great if these could work across cultures, but it’s a challenge.
  • Internal: Consistency with other elements in a system.
    • Examples:
      • Traffic signs. The system is the road infrastructure, so it’s good to have a standard protocol so you understand what’s going on.
    • Having uniformity in the system creates trust in a system because people know what to expect. Imagine having a sign that says the wrong direction…how would you trust the next sign while driving?
  • External: Consistency with other elements in the environment.
    • Examples:
      • Emergency alarms. If you hear a siren on the road or in a building, they are two different environments, but you know that something is wrong and to be cautious.
    • These are rare because they have to be basic to the point that they work across systems that have different design norms and structures.

The first three focus on the immediate system whereas external focuses on the system as a whole. When designing, focus on making the system simple and user-friendly. Where that system engages with other systems, use the best cross-system approaches for critical needs.

Don’t compromise clarity or usability for consistency. Use it as a tool but not an end all be all.

Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

The world is always changing and simply conforming to society’s expectations cuts us off from what it means to be alive and can lead to mediocrity.  Don’t be afraid to keep things interesting. Just know you’ll probably be misunderstood and even attacked because you’re going against the grain. Do it anyways if you believe in it.


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