Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

— Leonardo da Vinci

Keeping things simple and straightforward for your users is more complex than you think. Most people believe lots of white space and a basic layout when you say “simple” website. Simplicity in website design is more about finding the right balance of information and presentation than it is about white space or layout.

When people have to think about what they are doing, there is the opportunity for them to become frustrated, confused or simply make a mistake. All of this means they are not able to do what you want them to do on your site, or what they came to do on your site. Make it easy for them. They already have enough going on around them competing for their attention. Your site shouldn’t present unnecessary barriers.

Creating a page flow that makes sense and is easy to navigate is key to ensuring that your users will be able to move around the site without getting lost or confused, and that they will be able to find the information they seek. Have a consistent layout and avoid distracting design elements. Make sure your site is designed with a minimum of distractions and is focused on your key goals.

In addition to a logical flow, keep information clear and concise. People will spend time on a site if they find what they are looking for, but will quickly leave if the site is too challenging to navigate or difficult to use. Having a clear call to action is paramount. If you have too many offerings or multiple calls to action, users will be overwhelmed and confused. When people have too many choices available, they won’t make a decision. Instead, they will just leave.

Reduction isn’t the only way to achieve simplicity. Users will often click through multiple pages without concern if they received the feedback they anticipated. Eliminating pages can actually create more problems. For example, on e-commerce sites if you add multiple actions for a user to perform on a single page, such as entering a credit card and an address, the user may miss something or be overwhelmed. Presumably you will have proper error messaging, but if they get too many errors they will perceive this to be an issue with your site and may simple give up. Having pages with discrete tasks (take a look at Amazon’s checkout pages) may add more pages but will improve the ease of use of the site.

Finally, always look for ways to optimize your site. Consider A/B testing and multivariate testing to find ways to increase conversions. Make sure your site load time is as fast as possible and follow basic web standards. Search engines penalize your rankings if your site loads slow or doesn’t follow the standards. What’s more, users have little patience and will not stick around for sites that take too long to load (often because they are overloaded with unnecessary content).