Complex Simplicity or Simple Complexity

The Basics of Digital Strategy

When I first switched over from a traditional strategy background to sink-or-swim in the world of digital, I was somewhat amused to find that life on the other side wasn’t so different after all. Strategy, by and large, is about making the smart and informed choices that keep your own agenda resonant with the user or consumer’s interests.

In digital, much like everywhere else, simplicity is often perceived as the holy grail of user experience. But removing confusion doesn’t always necessitate removing complexity; for every challenge there is a different solution. Efficiency should be respected with the same regard as its revered cousin — being a good strategist ought to be less about simplicity than it is about curation. Not just removing choices, but laying them out in clear and intuitive way.

There’s no one right answer when it comes to digital strategy, but, for the most part — and it’s worth saying an excellent strategist is willing to break their own rules — the following tenets hold true.

Keep your larger objective front-and-center.

After you’ve determined the key objective of your digital product — what do you want it to do, accomplish, or offer? — make sure that’s exactly what it does. A well-designed site takes its raison d’etre into account across the board. From information architecture to visual design to content development, when your larger goal informs your smaller decisions, your chance of success increases exponentially.

Remove choice.

Your UX should be as intuitive as possible; a user presented with too many paths will become overwhelmed by any unnecessary decisions. Instead of providing a host of options at the same level of importance, progressively disclose UI options. Make sure you provide the appropriate sign posts and cues throughout the site — you never want a visitor to get lost.

Offer more than a pit stop: create an experience.

Use storytelling logic — engage — both when it comes to larger site design and content itself. Think about rational prioritization, whether hooking a reader, putting the most emotive and impactful content up front, or setting up a question that pulls the reader through. Avoid dead ends; always put a logical next step at the end of a page or block of content.

Be clear: say what you mean, do what you say.

Your job is to get someone where they want to be as quickly as you can. Keeping menus short and contextual helps the user to get where they need to go. Straightforward language is of crucial importance when it comes to navigation and content headers. Use task-oriented words that reflect the concerns of your users.

Less (content) is more.

Cut wherever possible and get straight to the point. Users don’t like to read or don’t read at all, so ensure that you’re lightening cognitive load by presenting only necessary text that follows a clear information flow. When it comes to design, aim for clarity; give content room to breathe with a liberal use of whitespace. Aid focus by removing any elements that could compete for attention.

Design for the manner in which your product will be used.

This likely means building for mobility and sharing. Approximately 60% of digital media consumption occurs on a mobile device. 89% of adults use social media — it’s the dominant way to discover and share content. Whatever you create, think through the current consumption habits and potential near-future shifts in the media landscape to keep your product experience both relevant and premium across a spectrum of experiences.

Be responsive.

Writers say they’re never finished; even after publication, one might find a better means of expression. Digital strategy shouldn’t be different, except that there is more flexibility to adapt. The best work takes testing and learning into account — it is iterative and responsive. No digital UX or strategy is perfect. Allow yourself some room for improvement.