Beware the lure of consistency

You know what’s cooler than consistent error messages? Having a bottomless supply of fresh error messages. Imagine a stack of contextual messages crafted for the user’s precise experience. Cooler than that? What if those messages are hyper-personalized for each human using your product? To the point where they are written in a style empirically proven to have the best 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.

So look, 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.

Consistency is for us not them

So let’s not make consistency our God. Remember, 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.

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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