How to create better web design through simplicity

Don’t ask the passengers to fly the plane: creating better web design through simplicity

Technology is a means to an end. It’s a great enabler, enhancing lives and building bridges between today and our future goals. It takes care of many of those yawn-inducing, tedious tasks.

Tech makes our working hours more productive, keeps us connected, and provides satisfying, gratifying entertainment in our leisure time.  We’re surrounded by computers, smartphones and videogames, digital music streaming services, video-on-demand, websites, apps, and all the other trinkets and tools of the digital age.

As consumers, we want the tech to fade into the background, so we can snack on the content.

As designers and developers, we really don’t want to overthink the delivery. When you get too fancy, it’s like asking the passengers to fly the plane. And that can only end badly.

A lesson in simplicity

Have you ever noticed how Netflix seems to read your mind, by playing the next episode without you having to click a thing? That’s what we’re talking about. Technology achieves its greatest goals when users don’t have to think.

It’s the same with web design. Your UI should make sense to everyone. The best websites offer the least resistance. You just seem to glide through them, effortlessly, which is what we’re looking to achieve today.

That’s why we’ve been revisiting Steve Krug’s classic book, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Originally published at the turn of the millennium, and revisited in 2014, it’s a great, no-nonsense, go-to guide for brushing up on web usability principles.

Sure, in internet terms, that book is a bit elderly these days. But there’s still a lot of solid advice to be found within its pages. Technology continues to improve, web design evolves, and people’s expectations change, but the fundamental techniques still apply.

Above all, make things obvious

As we’ve already touched on, people just want to get to the content. If you put barriers in the way, no matter how whizzy and creative, you’re just going to cause annoyance.

Good design shouldn’t demand any thought from your audiences. They should find what they need with ease. Every tap, click and glance needs to take them on a journey to where they want to be.

Online, people don’t tend to read. They scan.

Your punters are on a mission. Don’t waste their time. Remember, your competition is always just one click away. Given half a chance, and a dodgy UI element, they are ready to pounce on your potential customers.

That wheel is round for a reason

When things work well, they become ingrained into our lives. These unwritten rules make actions intuitive, helping people to navigate without giving it much thought.

We like making natural, almost unthinking, choices. It creates a sense of flow and rhythm.

Your users won't mind performing a lot of taps and clicks, either, as long as each one is painless.

Give them the confidence that they’re on the right track and being rewarded at every turn. And if you need to give guidance on how to use any part of your site, ask yourself if it can be created differently. If it can’t, then make sure the guidance is brief, timely and on message.

In short, don’t try to change the shape of the wheel. It just won’t roll as well.

Answer those big questions upfront

Those first few seconds are critical. When someone lands on your website, they want to have everything laid out in front of them, easily identified and good to go.

Usually, visitors will have four things on their mind when arriving at your page:

  • What is this?
  • What can I do here?
  • What do they have here?
  • Why should I stay and not head somewhere else?

Go ahead and use as much space as you need, but no more than necessary.

Get to the point, and fast

Quit the chitchat. People don’t want long introductions and inane pleasantries from your website. They want you to get straight to the point.

Make sure your landing pages and apps do just that.

Some people can’t live without their search function

There are no two ways about it. Your websites, and maybe even your apps, need to have a search facility. Some people just love to circumvent all your lovely, intuitive navigation, and reach straight for that search function.

Perhaps they feel they don’t have time to scan through the navigation, or they don’t trust it to be simple enough. Whatever the reason, when they use a search bar, they can type in exactly what they want, and get to where they need to be.

If you don’t have a search function, then you could be alienating a significant proportion of your audience. Give them the option, or they may well go elsewhere.

Show them the way to go home

The home button is the ultimate emergency exit for your visitors. It’s their get-out-of-jail-free card.

When all is lost, and even multiple taps on the back button have let them down, they’ve got that single-click safety net to guide them home. Make sure it’s obvious and immediate.

Test, test, and test again

The more you test, the more successful your products will become. Collect those user insights, analyze them and iterate.

When you monitor stats and preferences, through quantitative and qualitative research, you’ll know what your audiences like. And you’ll know what they hate. You’ll start to uncover patterns in behavior, discovering new potential opportunities and locking in your audiences.

Command+Option+Escape …or perhaps ctrl alt delete

We see this blog as a place to pull everything back into focus.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the detail. Sometimes you just need to step back and look out across the creative landscape. Pay attention to the fundamental concepts.

Reset. Get back to the nuts and bolts.

Chances are, you’re familiar with all the above anyway. But it helps to revisit it once in a while. It helps you stay on track, engage your audiences, and get results. And that’s what it’s all about.

So, if you’re interested in exploring design systems and user research in more detail, it just so happens we have a couple of downloads that should hit the spot. Explore the links below to find out more.

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