What is Aesthetic, Functional, Internal, External: Consistency?

Aesthetic consistency is beautiful, it keeps a sense of order, and can be very powerful.

It’s what makes the Mac computer (I am using) a Mac

and the Kleen Canteen (I am drinking from) an instantly recognizable water bottle.

Aesthetic consistency is keeping similar design principle’s within a range of products to continue the heritage of a design or a brand, making it easily identifiable to anyone who has seen that brand before. It’s a very powerful thing for brands to do when they have established themselves and have a loyal following as it means instant recognition and probable product purchase.

However having too high a standard for aesthetic consistency can also be a problem. These days in a world of convergence, problems with consistency compound, as explained here by Simon Pulman in “Aesthetic consistency across platforms

“Having such a high grade product for the narrative driver is a blessing and a curse.  On one hand, it establishes the quality of the brand.  However, it presents obstacles for the other platforms.  Accompanying webisodes may not have the time or money to replicate the feel of the original movie.  Shooting them contemporaneously could add millions to the budget.  The video game will not (yet) be able to replicate the beauty of the movie world in true fidelity.  The comic book side story will struggle with whether to replicate the framing, angles and production design of the original and may feel a need to slavishly follow the film.”

Humans require order and functional consistency provides us with this order. We need to be lead, we need systems that look the same and behave the same way. We need systems to give feedback the same way every time, unless there’s a reason for it.

In the article “Signs of change for wayfinding” Ramon Lopez looks at signage systems for Airports and then compares this with roads. Interestingly he says “Signs must be conspicuous, concise, comprehensible, legible and located at decision points where the user has the option of taking different paths. Signage on roadways is much more challenging because speed is a factor.”

Humans are sheep, we require consistency in larger systems too. We demand order and structure in order for us to function within our world. We need signage systems that work together to give us correct and precise information.  We need to know where we are going and how to get there.

Have you ever tried to find your way around a hospital? especially if your anxious trying to locate a relative. It’s always at that particular point when what’s left of our normal direction skills goes out the window with our anxiety.

Here’s a great example of how bad we humans are at finding our way and how we really need to be lead.  In their book “Wayfinding”  Paul Arthur and Romedi Passini say: People, Signs and Architecture, “In a [hospital] facility of some 800 beds, no less than 8,000 hours of professional time are lost in redirecting patients and visitors to their destinations.” In the healthcare environment, investing in a wayfinding program is vital because, simply put, when people are lost, money is lost.”

Their answer was to install interactive and non interactive digital signage, digital bulletin boards, Digital window displays, and a central electronic message centers for the hospitals exterior signage.

What happens if we don’t have access to the information we need at the time we need it? In 1989, Richard Wurman coined the term Information anxiety, “a state of stress caused by an overwhelming flood of data, much of it from computers and much of it unintelligible.” (Wurman, 2000).

Without a standard outlook we get lost or feel disengaged. It’s the same when we design webpages and in this case a blog. W3.org attempt to bring accessibility guidelines to the web. They have designed the Web content accessibility guidelines which explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. This is no small number of people a 2011 report by the World Health Organisation says approximately 1 billion people can be classed as having a disability.

External consistency means having the same aesthetic design or performance across multiple systems. The people who I think have best managed to do this would be companies like Microsoft, Apple or chain food stores like Mac Donalds, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.

It’s obvious and it works. You can always go to any of these businesses anywhere in the world and expect to receive the same service. The staff will use the same equipment, and in the same amount of time you will receive the same product.

“When it comes to pages deeper in a website, the notion that we should ignore aesthetic enrichment because it might interfere with usability is fundamentally flawed. The designer must take into account the interaction among the emotional, aesthetic, and cognitive needs of the site visitors when considering the site visitor’s pleasantness of experience in the overall design plan.” (Badre 2002)

In summary an aesthetic approach to design needs to be continuous. When we design webpages or blogs for the web we need to be aware that people have expectations. They expect simplicity of use, they expect certain minimum design criteria so it’s functional, they expect conformity in certain aspects of design so they know where to look and how it works before they do anything, they expect systems to perform the same way and finally there needs to be a way of finding assistance when it all goes wrong. We need to comfort the user by making the experience similar to what they know and express our creativity in content to make it different and fresh.



Arthur, P. Passini, R. (1992). Wayfinding. New York, USA :Mcgraw-Hill

Wurman, R. (1989). Information Anxiety. Indianapolis,Indiana, USA: Doubleday.

Badre, A. (2002). Shaping Web Usability interaction design in context. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.


Tyke, R. (2010). Digital signage. Facility Care, 15(7), 16 – 17.

Lopez, R. (2012). Signs of change for wayfinding. Jane’s Airport Review, 24(4).


W3 information. (2012). Retreived May 18th, 2012, from W3.org


Klean Kanteen picture. (2012). Retreived May 12th, 2012, from http://www.wired.com/images/productreviews/2008/10/klean_kanteen_27_ounce_f.jpg

Mac computer picture. (2012). Retreived May 12th, 2012, from  http://desktopwallpaper-s.com/32/-/The_Apple_iMac_desktop_computer

Wayfinding device picture. (2012). Retreived May 12th, 2012, from http://www.roundtreevisuals.com/

Apple stores picture. (2012). Retreived May 12th, 2012, from  http://www.jaunted.com/story/2009/7/20/02734/7310/travel/Five+Must-See+Apple+Stores+In+The+World

Sheep picture. (2012). Retreived May 12th, 2012, from http://www.thewire.org.au/StoryImages/a%20sheep.jpg

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