Less is not always More


latte coffee in the red cup, with toast, with butter and jam in separate pots, at an airport cafe

There seems to be a trend of late to take the minimialisation of interactive design to the extreme. Now I’m all or minimialisation and making user interfaces simipler.

You know making an interface streamlined to just the solid functionality of the interaction and no more.

I have been noticing a very frightening tread. In an effort to make things more usable, we are designing interfaces without the very functions used to support usability in the first place.

It’s a bit like stripping back a breakfast of toast and coffee to just a single shot, in a paper cup and plain crustless white bread. Yes it’s eatible, but where are little extras which make it a plesant experience.

Sadly with the removal of usability functionality the component of the accessibility quotient of a design also takes a very large if not fatal hit.

Streamlining an interface isn’t a simple task of just removing a few things, it’s a pain staking process of failure after failure as we tweak the interface, slowly taking it back to its core functionality without removing usability.

Even the best interface and interaction designs had a hard time doing this.   So why are just removing things with out any thorough.

Some examples of critically removed elements would be:

  • Any helper prompts from a form.
  • Any indicators for which feids are required, especailly on complex forms.
  • Field lables (names) themselves, especially on the username password pairs for login feilds.
  • Keyboard highlighting on form fields when navigating with a keyboard.
  • Grouping of fields on complex forms into like chunks, even if progressive disclosure is used.
  • Completely removing all word based labeling from buttons, leaving only confusing iconography.

Why is this happening. Well I can’t say first hand why, but I can damn well draw some conclusions.

  1. Deleting Usability

    The visual design is compromising the usability. You know all those extra elements (as mentioned above) well they can often look ugly and clutter a page, so from a design view they just need to go, or be hidden. Afterall we want to make things simple and neat.

  2. Following the Leaders

    There is a misguided following of the interactive design and usability principles. Too often younger or inexperienced designers will follow the trends that they see on mass, without real regard or thinking of the implications of what they are doing. They just see some wanky “big name” designer doing it, so it must be right. Often the truth is it isn’t at all.

  3. Misunderstanding

    Yes they may have read a few blog posts on minimialisation or discussed it second hand with a few other misguided designers. But overall what they should be doing is spending a little time on some professional development, read some of the authorittive some books on the subject, attend a few UX conferences. Get to understand the topic in full.  Practice it, test the outcome, fail, fail, fail and learn from the failure.

  4. Testing

    Test with real people. Yes I know it’s obvious. however testing with the auidence of the interaction you have designed for will reveal very quickly the issues. Of course the testing has to be conducted correctly without any bias.  Script testing will not cut it at all.

  5. Only Good Reviews

    To offen they will look towards “their peers” on some designy forum, which will just back slap them and tell them they are awesome. Being told something is great, is well nice. But frankly in order to become a better designer you need to know what is wrong as well as what is right. You need to get a fair review of your work. This is the fault of the communtiy and a core of various backslapping designers.

In a way these designs aren’t bad. Just lacking in understanding of what those small details are they have stripped away.

They have their heart in the right place, but in reality it’s as if they where desiging sites with CSS with an old school table layout. They are just lacking the bigger picture.

So if you are in this school or think you might be.  I’m not having a personal go at you.   As a designer you need to leave your ego at the door and think only for the betterment of the design.

All I want you to do is stop and think.

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