Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Is Less Always Best? How Visual Simplicity Can Harm Usability

Balancing visual and structural complexity in interaction design. "Usability is based on principles such as "Less is more" and "Keep it simple, stupid". But there is more to simplicity than meets the eye. By reducing visual complexity at the cost of structural simplicity, you will give your users a hard time understanding and navigating the content of a web site.

In their effort to make things simple and user friendly, designers often try to reduce the visual complexity of web pages. They cut down the number of menu items, hide them away in dropdown menus, move related content and details to other pages, and split articles into multiple pages. The reason is often an aesthetic one, but designers find support in widely held beliefs about users, such as:

  • Users can only manage a certain amount of information at a time

  • Users don't want to wait for things to download

  • Users don't want to scroll

While such statements hold a grain of truth, they are oversimplified, undifferentiated, and at worst misleading.

For the interaction designer it's a question of striking the right balance between visual and structural complexity. People will complain about a visually complex page at the sight of it. But they will also complain if the information they need isn't immediately available to them when they start using the site. It's the good old story about the difference between what people say and what they do.

If a site isn't solely for visual pleasure, you should rely on user behaviour and not on what people tell you. Use findings such as those mentioned in this article as guidelines and test your designs with prospective users.

Highly recommended.



Henrik Olsen - [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, August 18 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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