(This post is based on the video, “Brand Consistency in Product Design,” in the Design Defined: Design Principles Explained series.)
People often think of brand consistency as it relates to advertising and communications.
Consistency in colors, images, fonts, terminology, and tone all tell a user that they’ve come to the right, familiar place, whether it’s a website or a brick-and-mortar store.
But it’s just as important for designers of products to consider brand consistency when creating a new design.
Brand Consistency in Usability and User Experience
The elements of product branding include colors and icons; as well as form, materials, and finishes. But just as important is the product’s user experience, which is the sum of its interactions, functionality, and workflow.
Brand consistency in product design is as much about usability and user experience as it is about look and feel.
Brand Consistency Across Products and Channels
If your brand includes multiple products, users should have consistent experiences no matter which they use. That might mean all of your devices have the same icons or buttons, or you might use the same finish across the entire product line.
Google provides a great example. Its voice assistant is available on a wide range of devices, but no matter where users find it, they engage with it by saying, “Hey, Google.” That branded interaction is consistent whether you’re using a Nest Cam, a Lenovo Smart Clock, or a Google Home Mini.
Brand consistency is important across channels, too. When a user visits a website related to a product, the user experience should be similar. The same goes if you’re building kiosks or creating email blasts.
Brand Consistency Means Less Work for Your Users
Usability consultant, Jakob Nielsen, has said, “Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don’t have to worry about what will happen.”
Even though pretty much no one under the age of 25 has used a floppy disk, design consistency means that they still know the floppy disk icon will let them save a file.
When users see the floppy disk symbol, they know its function. They don’t have to think about what it does, and since thinking requires work, they’re required to do less work.
Brand Consistency Builds Brand Loyalty
Consistent user experience builds confidence — users know how to operate your products — and trust. They know what to expect. This makes it easier for users to interact with your brand’s other products and helps foster brand loyalty.
Most people who have an iPhone will select another iPhone as their next device. When they choose a laptop or tablet, they might be more inclined to purchase a Mac or an iPad. On the other hand, Android users will likely choose to buy another Android device.
Brand consistency is a key driver behind those decisions. Apple keeps its buttons, icons, gestures, and overall user experience similar across products. The Android OS does the same. This makes it easier and more appealing for users to switch between different products offered by the same brand.
(Have you ever seen an iPhone user try to download an app on an Android phone?)
Maintaining Brand Consistency Through Updates
Designers working on product updates need to make sure the user interface doesn’t change to the point where existing customers feel like they’re using something entirely new.
This applies to both digital and physical products. Keurig is a good example. While the form of a Keurig machine’s buttons do change from model to model, the process of selecting a cup size stays the same across the entire line.
Regardless of which Keurig you buy, you’ll always use a similar method to brew your coffee. Whether you use a dial, button, or touchscreen, you know you need to start the coffee-brewing process by choosing the number of ounces.
Other aspects of the Keurig product experience remain consistent, too, no matter the model, such as the placement of the handle for the pod holder.
How To Establish Brand Consistency
If you’re designing a new product in a line, ask yourself which elements are so essential to the brand essence and workflow that changing them will frustrate or confuse a longtime user.
Assess your existing product’s interactions, functions and workflow. How can you recreate those elements in the new product?
If you do add new functionality or change up the workflow, make sure there’s appropriate onboarding.
User Testing for Brand Consistency
If there’s any question, do user testing with consistency in mind. Include both new and longtime users to make sure neither group has trouble using your new product out of the box.
What do your users already know about your product? Have they used similar devices? Can they easily move from one product to another?
You can conduct a similar self-assessment. Place each of your products in a line. Step back and ask yourself: Do they create a single, unified brand image? Do they use the same visual branding language? Are the physical and digital controls consistent? How are the workflows similar?
Product Branding Should Be Multidisciplinary
Involve everyone on your team in creating branded user experiences and interactions.
You might not immediately think to include your electrical and mechanical engineers in your branding process, but they’re responsible for creating key components of the user experience.
The parts they select and the way they arrange them will inform interactions and may determine how or what you can create.
Brand Consistency in the Wild
Consider your favorite brand. Does it offer a consistent user experience across multiple products? Are you more inclined to buy from the brand because you know how its products work?
How can you establish brand consistency in the products you’re developing now?
Learn about more product design principles when you download our free Design Defined ebooks!