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What is Simple in UX Design?

Simplicity is a difficult concept to quantify and define. It can be different for different people, places, and things. In UX design term simply means enough. It may be looking too simple here but as you dig deeper in terms of what is required to be simple, you find it so much more relatable.

Simplicity is the lack of complexity. Simple things are straightforward and easily understood. Simplicity is about the experience." - says Jason Stirman, Product R&D at Facebook

Why does simple design matter

Why Simple design is important? The answer is, because Simplicity Sells, yeah, that’s what  David Pogue tries to tell us in his first TED talk. People do look for convenience, they are only satisfied by overall product performance, not just a feature. Users can feel that How simply they don’t need to pay more attention to the product but their task has been done or the problem is being solved.

Simplicity saves user’s time. Simple designs don’t need much attention from users, they just view the layout and perform their tasks in no time. As a designer, our ultimate goal is to users should be able to perform their tasks efficiently, without paying too much attention to design.

How to design simple

Coming to the practical, So how do we achieve simplicity? what does it take to be simple for a product? Having enough to look simple is good but what is enough and how do we quantify it? I found these four things common in every simple design…

  1. Define - the task/problem
    In order to achieve a simple design, you have to stick to one single task or problem at a time. Define the goals. Once you define your primary goal, design around that. All the secondary actions or features must be accompanied by the primary goal. People want everything in a single product, it’s our job to not get distracted here. Adding multiple features and multiple actions do not lead you to make something simple.

    As Jobs said that - “Innovation is to saying no to 1000 things. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done.”
  2. Consistency - is the key
    Consistency is the key to great design. Be consistent, always try to put similar elements in similar places so that people can act through their intuition. It also helps our users to build mental models around our product. Consistency helps users to achieve efficiency. Identify similar processes and use similar approaches throughout the product.

    You can break consistency only when an interface is genuinely unique, It’s not as often as you think.
  3. Clarity/Cleanness - comes over the time
    Clarity will come over time. The more you are clear about your task/problem the more you clear in designing it. Here your goal is to minimize cognitive load. Some points that help you to achieve it:

    Sometimes we only have seconds to convey the information on the screen before users leave. To get the clarity you should pay attention to every minor element, like icons, colors, textures, typography, shadows, shapes, clues, and white spaces. by doing this you can create something unique and authentic. You can improve visual hierarchy and readability.

    White space plays important role in overall design tone. Clean designs are often sparse with ample whitespace. White space may reflect minimalism and luxury.

    “Despite what some clients may tell you, empty space in a design isn’t space that’s waiting to be filled with content or (gasp!) banner ads. Whitespace is just as important as your company logo.” — On Web Typography

    Clues are also a very important part in design, it tells people where they can click, where they can go in an interface.Clues are also a very important part in design, it tells people where they can click, where they can go in an interface.Clues are also a very important part in design, it tells people where they can click, where they can go in an interface.
  4. Focus - on the outcome
    We should pay attention to every small detail in each stage and step just to make sure all items compound and fit each other to serve the same purpose.

    Focus on not to distract with too many options or features. We think that users would go through all the details we’ve placed on the screen. But it’s not the case, People are overwhelmed by information. Think about your value proposition and the problem it relates to.

    The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. When in doubt, just remove. But be careful of what you remove.” - John Maeda, author of Laws of Simplicity

Minimal vs Simple

Simple does not mean less, the problem is we think that by removing stuff we can achieve simplicity. Minimal can not be always simple. It may lead you to more complex than you think. That’s why the hamburger menu fails to deliver the expected result. N/N group describe it very well in his post: Hamburger Menus and Hidden Navigation Hurt UX Metrics.

Sometimes designs actually need more of something to become simple. So Instead of hiding or cutting stuff away, just focus on what is required most at what point of time. We have to make sure that we are not oversimplifying things for the sake of minimalism. As described in Myth vs Fact Simple looking, minimal product UIs often carry hidden complexity.

Less buttons, switches, and options do not make something simple.”  - Jason Stirman, Product R&D at Facebook

Summary

There’s nothing wrong with a complex interface when you have a complex problem. It may take time to learn what users actually want. As Albert Einstein put it, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

“if you’re making an app with the idea that lots of people in the world will use it, consider that being super explicit with labels and text, using tried-and-true interaction patterns, and resorting to familiar iconography is going to make people’s lives easier, even if it adds more clutter or feels less “innovative”. -  says Julie Zhua, former Product Design VP @ FB in The 5 Most Common Design Mistakes

It’s tricky to decide how much is enough but placing the right element in right place with appropriate details, actually makes a product simple.

Note: This article also published in Medium

Update on:
December 31, 2023