Simplicity is not about making less. Its about making easier.

Simplicity in Product Design.

Simplicity is about giving more. In UX, design and behavioural economics — we are always straining and pushing to create, reduced, focussed and simple experiences that will be easy to use. Interfaces that are intuitive and don’t require a learning curve.

Products should be simple to use, but it turns out that things that are too simple get rejected by people for different reasons. As Don Norman is famous for saying:

“Features win over simplicity, even when people realize that it is accompanied by more complexity,”

Users’ desire for both features and easy to use products will never go away. They do not only want one or the other. They want both.

- Donald Norman on Simplicity

It’s the job of the designer to give users the best of both worlds. This is not easy to do because more features often lead to a more complex user interface. However, that’s the challenge posed to the designer — to work with complexity and make it simple and easy to use. When you use the right interaction design techniques, it’s possible to do.

Simplicity in Design should not be the reduction of a feature set, it should be the reduction of the noise that surrounds each of those features. Its about taking out the barriers from people performing certain tasks and behaviours. As BJ Fogg points out in his behaviour model for Persuasive Design — improving ability basically means making something easy to do.The magic word here is simplicity but not in the sense of eliminating functions but in lowering the barriers (making it simple) so people can perform a task with more ease.

When considering how to attack simplicity in design, BJ Fogg states that we can focus on the following areas. Each of which is a good lens to put on any product or website you’re looking to improve or design:

These lenses are also a great checklist for user testing and interviews in any context for understanding a users pain points in using a product or service.

Time — If a target behaviour requires time and time is not available then, then the behaviour we are looking o achieve is not simple. Reducing the time and action requires (by perhaps reducing the systems flows as a generic example) is one way to make a product ‘Simpler’.

Money — For people with limited financial resources, a target behaviour that costs money is not simple. If price is a barrier, we should be considering a different target, changes to our product that make it cheaper, or a different pricing model.

Physical Effort — Behaviours that require physical effort are probably not simple, since we’re all pretty lazy. I am going to find ordering a jumper of a lot more simple than travelling into London to go to a store. Most utility services that we find on our phone (Uber, Airbnb, holiday apps, banking apps) target this characteristic very effectively in the services they create.

Brain Cycles — If performing a target behaviour causes a user to think really hard, then its not simple enough. Thinking differently, using something new, can often be a difficult thing for humans to do

Social Deviance — If a target behaviour violates our social norms, expected behaviour or routine behaviour, then it is often difficult and uncomfortable for a user to do.

However, relativity abounds, that is norms can change overtime, and many a startup have had massive success changing social norms. Think Spotify who simplify our ability to listen to music. They broke the social norms of taking away control of music distribution from labels.

Non-Routine — People tend to find behaviours simple if they are routine. When people face a behaviour that is not routine then they may not find it simple. In seeking simplicity, people will often stick to their routine.

We all have different levels of ability, so something that is difficult for one person, is going to be easy for the next. These six characteristics of complexity allow us to begin to understand where users are feeling pain points. Once the correct ones are identified, we can begin to figure out how to make things better

Simplicity is about making something ultra usable. And its a multi-faceted scale that will allow you to create brilliant product experiences and improve them which aren’t. Its not about focussing on one particular feature and disregarding others. Minimal Viable is a good place to start, but its exactly that — a starting point.

Simplicity is something that makes achieving a behaviour easier.
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