Maintain Consistency and Adhere to Standards (Usability Heuristic #4)

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Summary: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform and industry conventions.

Download a free poster of Jakob’s Usability Heuristic #4 at the bottom of this article.

The fourth of Jakob Nielsen’s ten heuristics — consistency and standards — is key to creating applications that make sense for users. Think about the websites and applications you use: they all rely on well-established conventions. Blue underlined text is clickable, the shopping-cart icon shows the items you plan to purchase, the site logo is in the top left corner, a magnifier-glass icon stands for search — these are all examples of conventions that are used all the time in digital products and that make users’ lives easier.

Advocating for consistency and standards may seem like we’re pushing for all applications to look and act the same , but that’s not the case. Rather, when websites and applications adhere to standards, users know what to expect, learnability is increased, and confusion is reduced.

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