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Simplicity is essential to web design

We know from research that most of the time our web behaviour is hurried. We spend little time reading web pages – we scan and skim content. Rather than optimising our decisions, we follow the first reasonable option. Simple designs can enhance communication and efficiency by being immediately understood at a glance, letting users grab and go.

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Web behaviour is impatient. The eye darts across a page. Decisions of what link to click on are made quickly. That’s why we need simplicity in web design, because complexity leads to confusion and poor decision making.
Gerry McGovern, Web navigation is about moving forward, April 02, 2006

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Simplicity paradox

There’s a constant tension between complexity of function and simplicity of design: we demand more from the things we use – more features, more functions, more power – yet we also demand that they be easier to use. It’s easier to market technology than usability – people choose complex over simple. But simplicity does not mean less features – it is about finding the right balance.

Simplicity does not mean minimalism

Simplicity is about making something feel easy to use. We don’t have time to waste on complex interfaces and navigation. Simplicity helps users focus on their tasks by removing visual distractions. Simple experiences also help users feel in control of the experience and outcomes, in giving them confidence that they are making good choices.

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Websites should make the main things users want to do very simple. Other actions and advanced features are possible, but simple things should be made simple to do.
Jacob Nielsen, in Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity (page 380)

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Four strategies for simplicity

From the book Simple and Usable by Giles Colborne:

  1. Remove
    • Remove clutter; allow users to focus on goals without distraction. Users value features that eliminate their frustrations.
  2. Organise
    • Organising is often the quickest way to make things simpler. Emphasise one or two important things using shape, colour, size, position and hierarchy.
  3. Hide
    • Interfaces that hide well are elegant; users aren’t distracted by unwanted details.
  4. Displace
    • Sometimes it makes sense to displace some parts of the task onto a different platform – putting the right functionality on the right platform or part of system.