Thursday, April 9, 2015

Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. (Albert Einstein)

So, what happens when you make it “simpler”? It’s a little counter-intuitive, but you can actually make things more complex. Let me explain …

In general, usability engineers worry about the opposite. The systems and sites we test and evaluate are often the product of design by committee, corporate turf wars, and designing for the exception. They’re typically bloated, speak in another language than the user’s, and are clear and obvious only in the mind of some engineer or developer. 

A team that has started to design this complexity out of their solutions is a team that is in on its way to greatness. Sometimes, however, you actually can go too far. 

For some reason, I often find this to be the case with teams that are heavy on the graphic design side. These folks are often concerned with clutter and detail, striving instead for a clean, crisp interface that meets their aesthetic values. And this makes sense. Just ask yourself … Who is the better artist – Henri Matisse or Hieronymous Bosch? Now, whose interface would you prefer to use?

Graphic designers usually pare down their interfaces by reducing detail. Sometimes, though, that detail serves a real purpose. So, what a graphic designer might see as unnecessary frou-frou really might actually be genuinely meaningful to a user. In fact, that frou-frou might actually be a valuable affordance.

Take the Metro, or flat, school of UI design (please!). Before flat design came along, a button on a screen looked like a button on a physical device. It looked like it had three dimensions. It practically begged you to push it. In flat design, though, all that detail is gone. A button is now just a rectangle with some words in it. As such, there’s nothing that really says, “push me.” Heck, it might just as well say, “here is a field with some information in it,” or “type in me,” or “here’s a box with a word in it for some reason.”

In a review meeting, one of the many eCommerce  directors I’ve worked with over the years once said that something “was so simple it was hard.” Though that does sound a little like something that Yogi Berra might have said, I think she may even have had the drop on Einstein when it comes to getting this important idea across.


Can you guess who is who?