Actually, More is More: Designing Paths For The User

You’ve all heard the saying in design that “Less is more.” Well, is it? Obviously it isn’t (Surely in this strange world more is still more), but is it inherently better to have fewer features on a screen?

To answer that question UX-ers have to step out of their design bubble and take a larger viewpoint. It starts with what features are available in the system. It has always been my belief that functionality sells the first generation of any innovative system, and user experience sells the rest. Proper design is built on and around the core features. Simply put, “form follows function.”

If these are true then it is better to have more related and desired capabilities, and do so without cluttering or clouding the most important ones.

The design idea of “less is more” is about simplicity for the designer not the User. It is a tool to be used to clarify and inspire your thoughts, not a holy grail to aspire to.

What is really important to Consumers is direction. Time and time again, I’ve seen in my usability research that the lack of clear direction for the Consumer is the core mistake made by designers.

So here are some of your basic tools to guide one.

  • Page layout – Use the relative positioning of items on the screen to reflect priority for key functionality and increase the scan-ability of the others.
  • Visual design – Use color, size, font and the rest of your tricks to draw attention to the place(s) you want the User to go, without making them oblivious to paths less taken.
  • Terminology – Use the language that the Consumer speaks, not what you got from development. I have background as both a Developer and a User Experience Professional, and believe me those two are not the same person and it is extremely difficult to wear both hats at the same time. It is your responsibility as the expert to overcome the way you were taught the system/talk about it internally, but that’s for a different post.
  • Clean up – Removing unnecessary items from the screen so as not to distract and confuse the User. (this is where less is more comes in)

“Less is more” is a small part of a larger approach to resolving a core issue with complex feature sets. Its simplicity of execution is the reason it has prevailed, but you can’t afford to lose sight of the larger picture.