Mere uniformity does not make for consistency





We often play the consistency card in the support of an argument.
I want this UI (form) to be laid out this way for the sake of consistency.
or
Let's be consistent and use the corporate presentation template.
or
I can't make an exception for you in case of this policy. We'll have to be consistent.
Used as above, consistency is an inappropriate substitute for uniformity. To check, ask "consistency with what?"

I want this UI (form) to be laid out this way for the sake of consistency.
    Consistency with what?
Consistency with the rest of the UI.
    You mean uniformity with the rest of the UI?
Isn't it the same thing?
    Well, laying it out this other way is consistent with the aim of keeping
    the user from making an incorrect assumption about the feature.

Let us all be consistent and use the corporate presentation template.
    Consistent with what?
With corporate guidelines of course.
    Guidelines don't demand uniformity. We could use our own templates as long as they are consistent with the image we want to portray as a company.
   
I can't make an exception for you in case of this policy. We'll have to be consistent.
    Consistent with what?
Consistent with the application of this policy.
    You mean you want to uniformly enforce the letter of the policy on everyone?
Well we certainly don't want to encourage exceptions.
    It seems you have already concluded that my case is an exception and one not worth granting.

Consistency is a higher order goal than mere uniformity. It requires some deliberation to decide if a certain course of action is consistent with broader objectives. On the other hand, uniformity is easily achieved by mechanical application of a rule book. This is what call center agents are trained to do. We know what the resulting user experience feels like. As Emerson said,

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".

Why then, do we fall for this? Often, it is just laziness to listen and think. Sometimes (as in the case of call centers), it is side-effect of organisation design. Decision makers and policy makers sit on top of corporate hierarchies. They don't devolve discretionary powers to subordinates. The subordinates learn to function uniformly, without regard to context. They unconsciously cultivate a habit of using better sounding words like consistency to defend their actions. The makings of a classic bureaucracy!

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