URL Melter: Keeping It Simple

The KISS (“Keep it simple, stupid”) principle was first used in the US Navy in 1960 as a way to explain how systems should be kept simple, and avoid unnecessary complexities. The same principle is often used today in software development for the very same reasons. However, quite often with well established products and services, the very opposite is the case.

Looking to others

When designing the URL Melter app, as well as the URL Melter website, I looked at how similar services operated; how their websites were designed, marketed and developed; and also how their own users felt about the product. This was relatively easy to do and gave me a decent understanding of what people thought of the services they were using. It quickly became clear that while the functionality of the apps was good, the vast amount of features available within them came at a cost: performance and stability was reduced, and the user experience and navigation around the app became convoluted.

Some extracts from reviews of similar apps (not naming names) included:

The stability of the app has always been an issue.

Frankly, the popup menu doesn’t look that great, especially compared to other apps.

I spent 10 minutes trying to discover how to shorten links.

The last quote in particular is important: if people aren’t able to open and app, perform a task and get out quickly, then it isn’t useful. Apps that shorten URLs should be simple and quick.

From the research I was able to come up with 5 key points:

  1. Similar apps to URL Melter often had more functionality, but lacked stability for a lot of people.
  2. Users had varying experiences of the apps: some found them easy to use, while others struggled with the core features.
  3. URL shortener apps that were made by a third-party often did not work or had very poor performance.
  4. The design of the apps varied significantly. While some URL shortener apps were simple, many had additional options and settings that added clutter and confusion for users.
  5. Many apps were not integrated with the rest of the system (iOS in this case), meaning they could not be accessed directly from other apps via an App Extension.

In order to make URL Melter successful as an app, I felt it was important to keep these points in mind, as well as the KISS principle that was mentioned earlier.

Keeping It Simple

The URL Melter app has been around since early 2013, but it has always had a very similar design. Below is the ‘evolution’ of the URL Melter app design, starting from the first version to the currently released version.

The evolution of the URL Melter app design.

There is one common theme that runs throughout all three designs: simplicity. While the first design may have additional controls on the screen, the core functionality remains obvious, and is still the most prominent feature of the design. More importantly, the URL Melter app still has many of the same features of its competitors, but, it remains stable, simple to use, and most importantly for a URL shortener: quick.

Keeping a simple design also means that the app is simple to use and navigate. The main view of the URL Melter app has just three main elements: the text box for the URL, the shorten button, and a button for accessing saved links. Un-necessary clutter has been removed through iterations of the design, and the latest version is the most refined so far.

Performance and stability was also a major factor when developing the app. The fact that URL Melter can only be used with the official URL Melter app means that all URL Melter users get the same experience. This experience is one that is stable, reliable and secure.

Clutter has been reduced significantly in the URL Melter app. In the first few designs, text on screen would guide users on how to use the app. In recent versions, this was removed, as simply replaced with placeholder text in text box. I felt that this was an important step, as the app is self-explanatory, and the existence of help text on the screen felt “outdated” and clunky.

App Extensions were introduced in to iOS 8 as a way of allowing apps to extend the functionality of the system. While many popular apps now have extensions, I could only find 1 other URL shortener app that had an extension (and it wasn’t a major service!). The URL Melter app has a share sheet extension that can be accessed by any other app, addressing many concerns from users.

Users of the URL Melter app notice how these points are considered. Some extracts from reviews include:

I haven’t had any problems. It’s built well for iOS and it looks great.

I love this app, the share sheet extension is really useful, and I use it all the time.

Short URL easy to share right off.

This is a great app for shortening my links. ….. it’s always really quick!

The hardest part about simplistic design is what features to leave out, even if they would add more useful functionality. I believe that if you can’t add a feature to a design without adding more steps to the app flow, then it shouldn’t be added at all. This is the idea I have followed since I first started development of URL Melter, and continued to follow up to the present day. While there have been opportunities to add new features, they could not be done without adding complexity, and at those times, I made a decision not to include them in the final product. And, so far, this seems to have paid off.

Conclusion

Keeping it simple in software design can be the difference between something that works well, and something that doesn’t. If you have a great idea for a new feature, but it would make the product complex or hard to use for a novice, then don’t include it (or at least hold it off). While there will always be exceptions to the rule, keeping designs simple helps to create a product that is understandable for your customers, and, overall, will probably create a better experience for them.

About URL Melter

URL Melter is a URL shortening service, available for iPhone and iPad, as well as online. It is used by thousands of people to shorten and share content from across the web, and continues to grow in popularity. You can learn more about URL Melter, at www.urlmelter.com.

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