Beware the lure of consistency

You know what’s cooler than consistent error messages? Having a bottomless supply of inconsistent error messages.

Imagine an infinite stack of contextual messages hyper-personalized for each human using your product written in a style empirically demonstrated to provide the most useful results given a user’s personality, life history, past trauma—and even taking into account if they’ve had too much caffeine that day.

All that is in fact, way, way cooler than consistent error messages that say the same thing.

But most product teams don’t have the time or resources (read: monkeys, typewriters) to write error messages just for Kevin.” So we establish cookie cutters to keep things consistent, but consistency isn’t everything.

Consistency is for us not them

Make not consistency your God. We do the consistency thing because it’s resource intensive to be contextual and personal all the time, not because it’s better. Consistency is more for us than it is for them. 

Inconsistency isn’t bad at all. Humans are super inconsistent. Sometimes we say hello” and sometimes we say hey”; all part of the non-stop fun of being a thinking primate. Games are inconsistent. That is why we play them. Inconsistency is a pillar of delight.

Mad libs are lame and always have been

Somehow designers have tricked ourselves into thinking {Verb} if you {adjective} {noun} is aesthetically or experientially better for the user because consistency. Have you ever talked to someone who talks to you in a consistent robotic way? Why is this desirable for user experiences?

Content design is not a game of mad libs.

Consistency is required

Yes, yes, you should always look for patterns and try to systematize things. There might be such thing as too bespoke. (Maybe.)

But in the clash between consistency and clarity, clarity all the way. Consistency vs delight? Oh, you know I’m picking delight, so long as the meaning is still clear. Why wouldn’t you? 

(Oh, because your style guide won’t let you? You’re a writer, a designer, a storyteller, and a stylist. Not a proofreader. You wrote the damn rules, break them once in a while. )

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