2005-12-03

Keep it simple, stupid!

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The Dalai Lama once said that simplicity is the key to happiness in
the modern world. This philosophy can be adapted into the realm of web
design and digital interface design.
The expressions "Keep it simple, stupid", "Kill your darlings" and
"Less is more" all pinpoint the fact that simplicity is important.
Simplicity lasts. Simplicity is necessary in order to properly convey any idea.

Content is King, Consistency is Queen

When performing an oral presentation, it is said that the message is
composed of 60% body language, 10% speech and 30% tone of voice.
If this were to be at least partially true for web design, we could
say that on the web, a message is composed of 60% design, 10% actual
content and 30% writing style.
I believe that content is king. It always will be. But?evidently?an
excellently written text easily disappears if placed in an improperly
designed environment, and excels when appearing in a well-designed
context.
Consistency helps to create simplicity. In an environment where
nothing is constant, interface consistency is of the essence. I'm all
for innovative interfaces. But when pressing an arrow that points
downwards, most people expect an element (e.g. a text block) to move
down, not up.
The best designs are simple, because they contain no unnecessary
elements... and contain the necessary elements in a way that seems
logical.

The Three Elements of Design

The three fundamental elements of graphic design are balance, contrast and invisible lines.
Balance refers to the overall composition of images, graphical
elements and typography within a design. Contrast refers to the
interaction between design elements. Invisible lines are the areas
created between the different parts of a design (for example, the
palpable but invisible lines that run vertically and horizontally
between the crop marks on a printed page).
Good design, regardless of target medium or audience, takes these
elements into account. If one element is neglected, the design will be
unbalanced. For instance, a design could be extremely visually balanced
and quite graphically sophisticated, but still incomplete because of a
dull choice of color. All elements are equally important.
Being aware of the three elements of design is a key to obtaining simplicity.
When a design doesn't feel quite right, many designers are inclined
to add elements instead of removing unnecessary ones, resulting in
overloaded designs. Sometimes, it's better to start over instead of
trying to fix or change the design. To quote hell.com; "trying to fix
or change something, only guarantees and perpetuates its existence."
Learning the skill of asking oneself "does this really need to be
here?" is the first step towards creating simplicity. The next is
understanding the motivations of your audience.

How do People Work?

If I truly understood how people work, I wouldn't be writing this
article, but rather sipping a perfectly mixed daquiri underneath the
palm trees on a beach somewhere quite far away from Sweden.
However, I do understand a little, just by examining my own
behavior. Over the years, I've found that in order to design well, it's
important to take into consideration how people generally work.
1. People want to be entertained: This explains why games and
pornography are so popular on the web. It also explains why so many
people are TV slaves, because television is an excellent way to create
a constant flow of varied visual and audio stimuli. This suits our
brains perfectly, since the brain easily loses interest in things that
don't provide stimulus.
To entertain means to capture attention. The classic quote, "Tell me
and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I'm yours"
underscores the fact that emotionally engaging communication is the
most efficient form of getting a message across.
For instance, two speakers at a conference could deliver the same
speech with two very differing results, leaving behind one satisfied
and one dissatisfied audience. The difference? 60% body language, 30%
tone of voice. (The 10% message is the same.) It's not until all
elements of communication fully interact that efficient and emotionally
engaging communication can be achieved.
2. People want to feel smart and discover things: That's why the expression "show, don't tell" was invented (and that's also why we all despise toothpaste commercials).
Form a circle with your thumb and index finger. Let the circle
symbolize communication. Now open the circle by moving the fingers away
from each other.
The gap between the fingers symbolizes a communication gap. If the
communication gap is too wide, the message is too obscure for people to
understand. If the circle is too narrow, the message is too obvious
(toothpaste) and therefore uninteresting.
3. People don't have time to learn things that are too complicated:
Thousands of people have never programmed their VCR. WAP (wireless
application protocol) has not become truly successful because it's
complicated and the obvious benefits are obscured. Many people are
hesitant to book flights online, because the actual booking process is
complicated and it's much easier to just call a travel agent. Hundreds
of dot-coms have gone bankrupt because they didn't have a business
concept that people could understand.
Whether you're designing a website, developing a new product, or
trying to get your point across in a discussion, it's good to remember
that most people do have limited patience.
That's why simplicity is important.

A Definition of Simplicity

What is simplicity? It could be defined as "the absence of unnecessary elements," or even shorter "the essence."
Simplicity doesn't equal boring. Simplicity doesn't equal shallow.
Simplicity is especially important when designing information- and
media-rich interfaces.
Simplicity isn't a design style, it's a perspective on design, an
approach which often creates the most beautiful and the most usable
results.
A common mistake is to think that obtaining simplicity is a matter
of reduction, of reducing something which is more complete than the
"simple" end result. On the contrary, simplicity requires serious
thought and effort.
As I wrote in my article Fragments of time; "A modern paradox is that it's simpler to create complex interfaces because it's so complex to simplify them."

How to Obtain Simplicity

Simplicity isn't easy to obtain. I have, however, roughly devised a formula that lays the foundation for simplicity.
Albert Einstein said; "If A is to succeed in life, then A = x + y + z. Work is x, y is play and z is to listen."
A functioning formula for simplicity (where A equals simplicity)
could be A = x + y + z. x is good research and prototyping, y is play
and z is the reduction of unnecessary elements.
By genuinely knowing your audience and your objectives, and building for them, you've won the first battle.


By creating a design that engages the visitor on a sensory (or perhaps sensual) level, you've won the second battle.
If you hold onto these gains and let go of the things that are unneeded, you win the war that earns a satisfied visitor.


Written under the influence of: Flesh Quartet, Cibo Matto, Laika, Weekenders and Beatnuts.


Bulgarian translation

By P?r Almqvist

Copyright ? 1994-2005 Digital Web Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

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Posted by ideawu at 2005-12-03 21:02:57

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