UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 991 April 2, 2013

Simplicity: The next design battleground

Consumers crave it.

The most successful brands have it.

You probably need more of it.

We’re talking about simplicity in your online customer experiences.

Always a virtue, simplicity is fast becoming a necessity in our increasingly mobile, multi-screen, and distracted world.

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • Tablet PCs will outsell desktop PCs next year and laptop PCs by 2016 [Source: Microsoft and DisplaySearch]
  • Mobile internet usage is projected to overtake desktop internet usage in 2013 [Source: Gartner]
  • 71% of mobile browsers expect web pages to load almost as quickly or faster as web pages on their desktop computers [Source: Gomez]
  • 90% of all US media consumption now takes place across a combination of phone, tablet, computer, and TV screens [Source: Google]

Dead or Simple

The business value of simplicity has long been understood. Fewer choices, shorter paths, and simpler messaging lead to higher conversion rates in study after study. Examples of simplicity’s triumph are all around us: Mint.com in personal finance; Apple in electronics; Google in search. Yet simplicity has remained an elusive ideal for most organizations.

The rise of mobile is forcing our hands and changing the way we design websites and software forever, with mobile and desktop design standards converging toward a more streamlined aesthetic. HTML and apps are becoming indistinguishable. Last September, USA Today pushed the envelope with a new website that looks and acts like an iPad app.

Four Ways to a Simpler You

If your organization is struggling to achieve simplicity, here are some simple techniques that can help you cut through the clutter:

  1. Start with your site traffic. A look at your site traffic is probably the best and fastest way to understand what your customers most value and what they can do without. Which of your content and features are getting the most attention? Which are being ignored? What are the top user paths? Which content is searched for the most? You’ll likely find that the 80/20 rule—where a small sub-section of your content sees the majority of activity—applies.
  2. Try mobile first. The emerging practice of “mobile-first,” whereby companies organize their business around mobile as their primary channel, is gaining in prominence (Google declared itself a mobile-first company in 2010). Whatever you think of mobile-first as a business practice, trying it out as an experiment can help you boil down your offerings to their most bare and useful essence.
  3. Get more objective. Designers, developers, and even executives can frequently get too close to their online initiatives; clinging tightly to pet features and the status quo. Install a decision-maker who knows your business and customers well, but who isn’t involved in the day-to-day of design and development. That person will have the objectivity to ask hard questions and, when necessary, slaughter the sacred cows.
  4. Test, test, and test. There’s nothing like the feedback of real users to break your internal logjams and provide clarity about what’s valuable to them. If budget or timeline are concerns, testing informally with friends and family can still produce valuable insights. And it’s better than no testing at all.

It’s Time to Get Ruthless

Ruthlessly simple, that is. We’re moving quickly from a world where we stuffed in all the features we could, to one where we must strip away everything we can. The future belongs to those brands that can specialize, synthesize, and consolidate for a faster-moving and more distracted audience. Only the most disciplined will prevail.

 

Image of arrowhead courtesty Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Scott McDonald is co-founder and managing director of Modus Associates, a digital innovation and design consultancy based in New York City. A frequent industry speaker and writer, he has advised global brands including Morgan Stanley & Co., Sony, Citibank and SIRIUS Satellite Radio, among others.

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Comments

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Somewhat simplified view on the value of simplicity. Also the road to simplicity should be different in my opinion. Many simple solutions are too simple to be useful. Simplicity is not a goal, but supporting target groups is. Simplicity is not the reason for the succes of these companies: design is (making the right choices). Start by understanding target groups. Test your understanding with prototypes and test them with users that represent your target groups. You might get the wrong input from family and friends. Site traffic will only give you data of usage within a certain solution, and it doesn't tell you why your users behave that way. Trying mobile first only works if your target group needs to be supported with mobile devices. Otherwise you might throw away the support of overview. Starting with your 1 and 2 might explain why you need to do 4: test test and test. So, becoming ruthless is not a good idea, but delivering what target groups need is.

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Mazurka, thanks for the great observation. I don't envy the person who tries to write that follow-up article! Organizations really struggle to follow through on simplification. Everybody agrees to it in principle, but then the individual exceptions start rolling in and before you know it, you're back to complexity.

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I have been thinking about many of these things for a while, nice article and to the point. I would like to see a follow up article, how to actually convince clients, managers, bosses etc to adopt all or some of these approaches. I mean really adopt them, not show some interest, or maybe even try it out just to fall into old habits a week or a month later.

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good article!