Do Fewer Things, and Make Them Great

I would say, without exaggeration, that 99% of website projects have the same common problem: they try to do too much from the outset, and end up being average, or poor, at everything.

Instead: do fewer things, and make them great. Be the 1%. Cover the basics (which is usually providing great content), and allow for the surprising amount of time it takes to make those basics incredibly valuable and easy to use.

Here’s an example. How many times have you seen a web page with a news article or blog post, and then some share buttons at the bottom, and a comments area? And how often do you see: “Likes: 0, Tweets: 0”, and “No comments. Be the first to post a comment”?

Every time you see this, time and money was spent on developing these features, and they end up not being used by anyone. Now they clutter up the page. Waste all round.

Make the content great—in this case, the news article or blog post—and then see if there’s a need for share buttons or comments. Essentially: take a step, and observe. Time saved, money saved. And maybe, if your content becomes successful enough that people want to discuss it or share it, a better way than share buttons or a comments area will naturally emerge, perhaps even set up by the users themselves. (People are very resourceful.)

Another example: have you seen overly complex search features on websites, with options that no one would ever need, or where there’s not enough searchable content to warrant all the whizz-bang features?

In general, users are surprisingly tolerant of browsing through lists. If you want, say, 50 items on your website and X hours of time to build the website, perhaps spend that time presenting them exceptionally well, rather than having complex search options and filters.

Third example: you go to a business’s website to find their opening hours. Their website has empty, pithy marketing messages, flashy graphics, and some obscure, out-of-date blog posts from a web agency who thought it was a good SEO idea two years ago. And yet the opening hours are nearly impossible to find, or don’t answer your basic question— “Yes, but are you open on Christmas Day?”—so you end up effectively wasting their time and yours by having to phone.

I would (controversially?) guess that 9 times in 10, a text-only website for a business that presents the key information and features clearly would be infinitely more loved than the visual, self-indulgent messes that get created at a far greater cost. I’m not saying text-only is better, just that function is more important than design, so if you’re choosing (or have limited time/resource/skill), or need to set your priorities, nail the function.

So whether you’re building someone else’s website, or building your own, ask this question at the end of the project: “Did we make everything incredibly easy to use, and now users want more from it?”

If so, you’re in the 1%. Until then, do fewer things, and make them great.