Don’t treat me as a simpleton.

by Tom Davis

Design simplicity is a relative and complex achievement.

How simple is simple enough?

In my general news reading I came across this article on the Wired website:
When It Comes to UX Design, Simplicity Is Overrated

It is a great article in understanding simplicity as a concept and discusses some basic approaches to work through when dead simple is not an option.

The core of the article can be summed up in this tract.

“Practically every designer who’s used an iPhone relies on it as the hallmark example of simplicity. This is absurd. The iPhone – which handles phone calls, weather reports, to-do lists, maps, text messages, video, photography, audio recording, games, web use, and about a billion other things – is so far from simple, it’s unbearable to think of the word being applied to it.”

It truly struck a chord in my mind. Lately I have been in a lot of conversations on how to simplify websites to make it easier for visitors to get to the information they are looking for. It is an excellent goal to strive for, but just setting "simplicity" as some arbitrary goal is, well, too simple.

A beautiful quote that is attributed to Albert Einstein says:
Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler

Some find this quote cute or confusing, but I see it as meaning when you make things simpler than they should be, you are likely removing (or hiding) utility. Also, you are not treating your audience as adults. (Of course, if they are children, you do want to treat them as children.) Clearly everyone wants things to be simple. The problem is that most very useful things are not simple. If the iPhone were as simple as its reputation, I would see far fewer people asking me "How do I listen to a podcast?".

The fact is that conveying information or utility is not solely up to the UX designers. If what you are selling or promoting is not compelling to your audience, who cares how simple it is. Conversely, presenting too simple of an interface can confound even the most engaged audience.

I have had experience in this last point. When searching for a cloud-based file storage and sharing service I came across this screen:

Overly simple design is dumb
This screen was not a landing page that might be optimized to encourage conversion based on the ad, email or other promotion that led a visitor here. This was (and may be still be) this company's home page, the place most visitors land with the least context. The content further down the page did not help since it was just as cryptic.

Context is important for more than just SEO, it helps visitors in your target audience know they are in the right place. In addition, context offers engagement to those visitors gathering early buying stage information.

I am still not sure what they do or why my Google search led me there, I just assumed it was not for me and moved on. (After gabbing a screenhsot.) I am sure this company worked very hard at simplifying their presentation. They certainly made it easy to sign up — there are two spots for that. I understand their conversion goal is for me to sign up, but could you give me a better idea of what I am in for?