As we enter into 2014, my mantra is to “keep it simple.” Simplicity is one of core tenets of a positive user experience. As Luke Wroblewski points out, from a business standpoint, we need to care about simplicity because even a perception of complexity can turn customers, clients, or business stakeholders off before they ever actually use a product.
While enterprise tasks can be inherently complex, what makes them even more complex is when products directly expose, the underlying complexity of the backend and the technical underpinnings, to the user. Fortunately the new era of mobile experiences is making a positive impact on enterprise R&Ds’ acceptance of simplicity driven productivity.
What is simplicity and what makes something simple?
In the talk “Towards the science of simplicity” George Whitesides provides interesting and philosophical insight to the meaning of simplicity.
For me, simplicity is about peeling the layers of complexity and getting to the core of basic user needs. Especially in the enterprise space, it's about reducing the cognitive load for our end users and exposing the bare essential information, contextually, in an effort to maximize task completion.
Making something simple should be pretty easy, right? Actually, it's much harder than you may think, because it requires tremendous focus, understanding of user intent, analytical & out of the box thinking and most importantly, the ability to let go.
Simplicity is about distilling the product to its fundamental definition, value and goal. As users, our product appreciation stems from how easily we can perform our tasks and core complementary features. It’s not about the number of features a product has. Pretty much any product stakeholder has been guilty of feature creep at one point or another, giving importance to edge use cases and trying to introduce a solution for every use case. However, these bells and whistles add to the complexity and water down the effectiveness of product experience and adoption.
In some cases, having a modular process-based experience can cut down on complexity without sacrificing content or features. I remember in my early design days, I broke down a single enormously long transactional page into a multi-step guided process. Invariably there were customer complaints that the design had introduced more clicks and made users less productive. However, a small usability study proved that users were 80% faster in completing the task with the modular design because it provided more focus and brought less cognitive load and noise per page.
Folks who have worked with me will tell you that I put up a passionate fight against the generalized perception that less click count is more productive. I can cram a page with tons of content and features all together but if the user can't even find what they are looking for, it defeats the purpose.
While the approach to simplification varies based on the type of product, product maturity, user base etc., the four strategies outlined by Giles Colborne in his book “Simple and Usable, Web, Mobile and Interaction Design”, is generally spot on.
Source: Simple and Usable
As we started designing Progress Pacific, we employed some of these strategies with an eye towards keeping it simple (see a few examples below). It was very tempting to add a lot of bells and whistles and content, but Darcy Stalport, my designer extraordinaire, managed to keep the experiences focused to the primary user goal.
Fig: Pacific Login Page
Fig: Post Login Pacific Landing Page
This is just the beginning of our endeavor to apply the simplicity-based productivity design thinking into our products. We will be engaged with you in our future design iterations as we continue to push simplicity-based design innovations. Exciting times are ahead and together we can make it happen.
Vice President, User Experience and Product Design at Progress
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