Why less is more

Duncan Stephen
Tuesday 22 October 2013

User expertise stagnates at low levels

When users learn how to use a website, they are doing just that – learning how to use it. This is why consistency is so important. Terminology, navigation menus and the general layout of a page should all remain consistent to avoid the user constantly having to re-learn everything.

This report from Jakob Nielsen reveals users do not like having to learn how to use a website or a piece of software. As such, they often find out about just a fraction of the functionality available. This is why the usability of a website is so important.

…[I]n Microsoft’s early usability research on the software release that would become Office 2007, the UX team asked customers to nominate new features that they would like to see added to the package. The vast majority of “new” feature requests were for things that had been in Office for years. As a result, the design team decided to emphasize discoverability in the new user interface and thus introduced the ribbon. Ensuring that people understood the old features was more important than adding new ones.

The article concludes with some strategies that can help with this problem. Top of the list is to have fewer features.

I often think of searching for information on a website as being like looking for a needle in a haystack. If we add more content to the website, we increasing the size of the haystack, making the task more difficult. Less is more.

8 universal web design principles you should know

Lewis suggested this article. It is a useful and informative whistle-stop tour of interesting principles in design.

Principle 3 in this article covers the same ‘less is more’ principle I picked up on in Jakob Nielsen’s article above.

Hick’s law says that every additional choice increases the time required to take a decision…

The more options a user has when using your website, the more difficult it will be to use (or won’t be used at all). So in order to provide a more enjoyable experience, we need to eliminate choices. The process of eliminating distracting options has to begin from the get go of the web design and should be carried on throughout the design process.

Do as little as possible

This is another article looking at a ‘less is more’ approach, but this time from a technology point of view. Lyza Danger Gardner argues that it is time to stop thinking about the mobile web as something separate. The multi-device world requires us to do as little as possible to maximise compatibility.

This isn’t a rationalization for laziness or shirking responsibility—those characteristics are arguably not ones you’d find in successful web devs. Nor it is a suggestion that we build bland, homogeneous sites and apps that sacrifice all nuance or spark to the Greater Good of total compatibility.

Instead it is an appeal for simplicity and elegance: putting commonality first, approaching differentiation carefully, and advocating for consistency in the creation and application of web standards.

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