Why simplicity is important in design

lightstudio
5 min readJan 31, 2022

In our modern time of clients, deadlines, and tedious rules this essential fact seems to have been misplaced by another prosaic human need: the need for more.

“Maybe we should add a little something, it looks kind of bland…” We’ve all heard it before, not just from others, there is this little voice in our heads that urges us to make something that is simple more complex, it’s completely normal. What’s more important is not to give in to any of that voice, not the outer, not the inner. Yes, we might get some slack for it, but that’s just part of the job of making great products.

We cannot escape our biology. Nature made us this way and there is nothing we can do about it. However, understanding how our biology functions is clearly possible, and we as designers can use this understanding in order to improve our work.

Let’s start off by dispersing one common myth: that humans are multitaskers. From a biological standpoint, this is not the case. Even though modern humans do have the ability to multitask, this is not the optimal experience of human beings, and our brains are biased towards focusing on one particular task at a time. “Neurological science has demonstrated that the human brain is incapable of focusing on two things at once.”

It has also been proven that placing too many objects in front of our visual field overloads the brain, and the result of that is that focus is not applied to any of those objects, it becomes diluted.

Cognitive fluency is the phrase that is commonly used to describe these types of phenomena. Broadly, it means the ease with which a task can be completed. Many studies have been done on this topic, and all have proved exactly the same thing: simpler, means easier, and easier, means more likely to be used. An especially pertinent study was done by Harvard where they proved that the more visually complex a website was, the lower its perceived value.

One of the first companies which caught on to this has since become one of the biggest tech giants in the world: Google. Let’s take the UX of the Google homepage into consideration, why is it so perfect, and why has it remained practically unchanged for so long?
Because it is so simple. You only have one option, because you only need one option. You came there to “google” something, and that is what is presented. Google continued forming their company in this trend and even went on to prove in a study that simple design is more appealing to the eye.

We can clearly see how these principles are easily translated into design.

A Time article has recently been published in which it was claimed that the human attention span has become almost as low as that of a goldfish, standing at a staggering 9 seconds. If users are not able to complete their goal within 9 seconds of looking at a screen, they will most likely turn it off. This makes the job of designers that much harder. We have a certain amount of time to pull in our users and make them focus on the task at hand, and if we fail, they just simply won’t use the product.

And again, we can surmount this problem with our good old friend's simplicity. By making our designs simple, we greatly decrease the chance of our users losing their focus. We have to be able to use those 9 seconds to full effect and draw them in, or else we will lose the users themselves. Because of this, in today’s age, for something to be considered good UX it needs to be short, sweet, and to the point. Short, so as not to overload the cognitive function of our users, sweet in order to grip and keep their attention and to the point so that they do not confuse the task which is at hand.

So, how can all of this be translated into good UX?

That part is actually pretty simple, you just have to keep in mind some rules of thumb:

If in doubt, leave out — if you have something which you are mulling over whether to put it into the design, you probably shouldn’t. This can apply to anything, whether it be some text or a whole component of the product.

Don’t stray from your path — Always keep UX in mind, you did all that research for nothing, so why should you throw it out now. When you get confused or forget why you decided on something, always make sure to look back at your work for the answer where you will usually find it.

Don’t add anything without good reason — If you want to add anything to your design, make sure that you have a good reason to do so. This means no adding just for the fun of it, or just to fill something out, that’s not how you make something simple.

Never trust your gut instinct — Always rationalize and thoroughly process rather than doing something on a whim, because that is usually what will lead to your design being more complicated. Even though your gut instinct can be helpful, it usually causes more damage than is worth.

Simple is good and complicated is bad. This is a very straightforward way of saying it, but it is a fact. These principles have existed since time immemorial and will continue to do so long after we are gone, that’s just how it is and there is no reason in fighting it.

Now, this is an important point: you should work harder in order to achieve more simplicity. This can sound like an oxymoron, but it is not.

As we have explained making simple and good design can be very counterintuitive and hard work, so you have to work for it. On every decision, stop and think, ask yourself if what you are making is really straightforward and essential. In the beginning, doing this will might feel weird, but in time you will be asking yourself what should be removed from your design, rather than asking what should be added.

So, the next time somebody asks you (or you ask it of yourself) to do something which makes your design more complicated, think again, your clients will be grateful for it.

By: Ivan Gligorijević

Co-written & Edited by: Aleksandar Stojanović

About: lightstudio.design

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