10 Ways to Simplify Your Designs

As designers, we face the constant challenge of building simple and usable products. And those products need to delight our users. However, while we have an increasing volume of tools at our disposal, including new technologies and advanced capabilities, delivering them in a simple way is often the biggest challenge.

What is Simplicity?

If something is simple, it is easy to understand or do. When translated to a website or application, it means that it doesn’t need explanation and is fundamentally intuitive. 

One of the challenges, of course, is that simplicity is subjective. What is simple for one person may be complicated to another. And this is where it becomes important to deliver simplicity without it coming across as stupidity. If you design for stupidity, you’ll need to lay out every possible choice and explain every element. Simplicity, on the other hand, assumes the user can draw on contextual cues and make choices without the need for explanation. 

Allowing people to come to their own conclusions is no bad thing, it helps them feel in control of the process whereas giving them the answers can make them feel stupid, the exact opposite of what you want. Simple, right?

Fortunately, to help you with your next project, there are some steps you can take to simplify your design:

1. Understand Your Users 

Before you can create a product, you need to know who you are creating it for and why. Understanding your users is fundamental. By getting to know them, you understand the problem they are facing and can then focus your solution on helping them to solve it as simply and efficiently as possible. 

2. Define a Core Value

It’s easy to get carried away with app design and to want your product to be everything to everyone. However, to create a simple product, what you really need to do is to focus on a core value. Ask yourself what your app is helping people to achieve and then make everything come back to that. 

3. Ensure Everything Has Purpose

When you’re trying to achieve simplicity, you need to ensure everything has a purpose. And, ideally, the purpose will be directly linked to the core value that you’ve identified. This in itself will help you to reduce complexity, ensuring everything is working towards a common goal. 

4. Remove Unnecessary Difficulties

One way to build simplicity into a product is to throw the idea on its head and instead to focus on removing complexity. If you want to improve something, you don’t always have to add more. A good philosophy is that when in doubt, remove. Your users don’t need secondary information, extra controls or distracting styles. 

5. Reduce the Number of Choices

While you might think the more choice, the better, this is rarely the case. In fact, the more options we have, the harder it is to make a decision. If you throw too many elements at your users at once, you are likely going to give them cognitive overload. Whereas, if you only give your users what they need at any given moment, you will avoid them contemplating decisions that they aren’t ready to make. 

6. Give Recommendations

You won’t always be able to avoid offering your users multiple choices, but you can help them to make decisions when that is the case. Providing recommendations or sharing which choice other users prefer can help them to come to a decision, thereby simplifying the process. 

7. Create Information Hierarchy 

You need to have an understanding of which elements are most important to your users. Once you know this, you can focus your attention on them. After all, it is these elements that will give users what they need and, in turn, drive results. Consider creating a hierarchy with the use of colour and typography. 

8. Organise Elements Logically

By grouping similar content, you immediately give users a way to filter and find what they are looking for. We are all wired to try to group similar objects, to assume things are similar when they are physically closer and to find patterns. By using design to create symmetry and familiarity, you can help focus the attention of your users. 

9. Deliver Tasks in Stages

Users are used to scrolling and swiping, which means you don’t have to cram everything onto one screen. If there is a task that needs completing, give it to users in stages. By sequencing information, you not only make the overall task seem less daunting, but you allow them to see their progress and give them the satisfaction to continue. 

10. Use Accepted Patterns

The chances are that your users are used to using multiple applications, so it makes little sense to make the learning curve steeper than it need be. By using commonly used patterns and interactions, users will instinctively know how to do the basics. If you do decide to use non-traditional navigation or controls, think hard about whether it is worth the extra cognitive load for your user. 

Can Your Next Design be Simpler?

It’s easy to get carried away with features and functionality, to lose sight of the core focus and to overcomplicate designs. By paring things back to the basics, and reviewing ways to simplify your design, you can help shine a light on what makes it great. Ultimately, you want to ensure that your app enables users to solve a problem as efficiently as possible. Overcomplicating the matter isn’t going to help make their lives easier. Simplicity is key.

To summarise, here are ten ways you can simplify your design:

  1. Get to know your users and what problems they are facing.
  2. Focus on a core value, the problem that your app intends to solve.
  3. Ensure everything has a purpose, ideally one that is linked to the core value.
  4. When in doubt about an element, remove it.
  5. Don’t overload your users with too many choices. 
  6. Make recommendations to help your users make decisions.
  7. Create an information hierarchy with colours and typography.
  8. Group similar content to help users find what they are looking for.
  9. Sequence information to make tasks less daunting.
  10. Adopt commonly used patterns to make your app more familiar.
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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