There is a growing movement towards “less design and more constraints” in designing for the web — much of it sparked by Jason Fried of 37 Signals. At last month’s Torcamp I had an interesting conversation with Jon Lax about this concept and how the biggest problem facing companies that want to adopt “less” as a design sensibility is client buy-in. Clients typically want more not less. When you’re paying for something the first reaction is that more is always better, but of course that isn’t the case.
Probably the most dangerous point in the process is when you unveil a mock-up or prototype to the client’s team. Invariably people will say they like it “but…” — and with that but we start getting a laundry list of enhancements. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”, “I think a user might want to be able to…”, “I don’t see anything for User Group F, G, and H on the site, could we put in a new section…”. You know the drill. The same thing happens when teams brainstorm the next iteration of a site. We naturally default to adding rather than taking away. To focus people on “Less” instead of “More” I suggest that we switch the goals of unveilings and brainstorming.
Rather than saying “what’s missing”, “what next” or “what else can we do for people”, let’s try asking these questions:
- What can we take away without impacting the user experience?
- What words can we remove without looking meaning?
- What can we get our servers to do so that users don’t have to?
- What can we remember from visit to visit so users don’t have to repeat themselves?
- What processes can we reduce?
- Where can we user simpler language, plainer English, and a less formal voice?
- How can we make pages smaller so they load faster and require less scrolling?
- How can we anticipate what users will commonly want to do next and make that painfully obvious?
- Can we do this with fewer people, less time, less technology, less money, and less pre-planning?
- Can we create artificial constraints that will make us look for more elegant solutions?
If we set up our processes to reward these questions — if we encourage “less thinking” instead of “more thinking” we’ll all benefit. Have you had any success in convincing clients that simpler is better (but still worth paying for)?
Originally published at www.onedegree.ca on December 8, 2005.