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Keep it simple, stupid

Describing someone as ‘simple’ is not a compliment, but for a system, workflow or user interface, it most certainly is.

By James Evelegh

Keep it simple, stupid

‘Simplicity’ is often the hallmark of exceptional design.

As the headline of Apple’s first marketing brochure in 1977 proclaimed, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Steve Jobs himself said: “It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”

‘KISS’, the acronym for ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is a design principle that states, “most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided”.

The need for simplicity comes through loud and clear in our special feature on content production and the user experience.

In it, Benn Linfield, head of design and production at Which?, advises: “Keep it simple; if something is obvious and right, then do it. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a solution simple; it should cost less, take less time to implement, should work well and be easier for users to adopt.”

It follows that simplicity should be a key criteria when designing production workflows or considering the user experience. Furthermore, it should be regularly reviewed and any hint of creeping complexity should be quickly knocked on the head.

Some telltale signs of complexity in production processes include:

  • production staff not using systems as they are intended to be used, but instead using workarounds to get jobs done;
  • non-linear workflows where team members are constantly having to turn left, turn right or double-back to complete tasks;
  • excessive amounts of time being spent searching for information or assets that should be at their fingertips;
  • manual repetitive tasks being commonplace;
  • there being more than one version of key documents (eg flatplans) in circulation, meaning delay and uncertainty.

All of these indicate under-performing workflows where jobs take longer to complete than they need to and are more prone to errors.

From the user-experience perspective, complexity might come in the shape of apps that don’t utilise the native functionality of the platform meaning that learned behaviours have to be unlearned; websites that do not open cleanly or work properly on commonly used browsers; cumbersome, time consuming and overly long sign-up forms; delays between sign-up and being granted access; poorly labelled or hard-to-find menus and navigation bars meaning that content is inaccessible; poor readability; intrusive and hard to side-step ads or overly cluttered pages.

As Matt Poole, Immediate Media’s chief product officer, says in the special feature: “UX is the ultimate determinant of user satisfaction and whether they enjoy using your product and will return in the future, shaping the long-term opportunities and success of your brand / business.”

The special feature goes through all this in great detail. If you follow even some of the advice from the experts who took part, your teams will be more productive and your customers happier. Win-win.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.