Simple is Better than Complex. But is Easy Best?

Previously, we wrote a little piece explaining why web designers think that simple is better than complex.

We argued that effective website design relies on keeping things simple.

We defined the designer’s role as taking a client’s individual requirements – which may be inherently complex – and turning them into a clear, comprehensible website that visitors can understand and appreciate.

We even quoted Leonardo da Vinci, who said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

Written By
Dan Partridge

This design philosophy has a huge impact on the websites that we’re designing. Most failing websites are too complex and try to do too much. They fail to understand the way that a user wants to use the site. This tends to result in frustration for the site visitor – and ultimately for the website’s owner.

Simplicity is Good. Ease is Better.

Mashable have recently released an article looking at these issues for their UX magazine.

John Boykin explains with great clarity that the goal of simplicity isn’t simplicity itself. Simplicity is good, but it’s not what we’re looking for. After all, anybody can design something that is simple or simplistic.

He argues that what we’re really looking for as designers is ease.

Boykin uses various examples to make his point. He uses the humble USB plug – something that most of us use on a daily basis – as an example of a design which would be better if it were less simple. The simplicity of the USB plug’s rectangular shape means that we often require 2 attempts – and several wasted seconds trying to see which side is which – before managing to insert it into a device. He suggests that making the USB plug less simple – perhaps by adding a distinguishing mark or shape to one side – would make it significantly easier to use.

He’s right.

As web designers we’re very keen to ensure that we don’t make this mistake.

In an attempt to distinguish themselves from previous generations of ineffective, information-heavy website design, some organisations have developed highly minimalistic websites. These sites tend to have several things in common. They’re usually full of beautiful photograph, clever imagery and catchy messages.

They’re perfect for artistic and creative agencies that are keen to retain an element of intrigue between themselves and prospective clients/customers.

However, this approach to designing websites – that simplicity should be prioritised at all costs – is in danger of leaving clients feeling shortchanged. It’s true that simple is better than complex. However, as John Boykin so helpfully explains, it’s ease that we’re really looking for.

User experience is all about helping visitors find what they’re looking for in a helpful, efficient manner. If your site is so simplistic that a user can’t do this then you’ve probably missed the mark.

Image: USB by quiroso on Flickr (Creative Commons)

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