Less is Not More

Simplicity is not just a visual concept, woven into the job titles of information architects and experience designers. Simplicity is the art of removing clutter and redundancy in all areas of your design process, even programming. “I have never seen an engineer as lazy as you! That make you my most talented employee.”, said a former employer of mine. His words reminded me, that the work of simplicity, can quickly be seen as lazy behavior, as the goal is to do as little as possible. Though he knew that my work was the best he had seen, he often joked about the parallels. As a design engineer, my focus was constantly on optimizing my workflow, producing faster results, with higher quality and reliability.

Working with one of the leading travel agencies, I designed a new portal for customers to create road-trip bookings. This required that the customers could add their start, stop and intermediate destinations into the portal. The architects on the project had worked on multiple workflows during our design stages, but had focused to much on the visual part of the flow. The results was two separate screens, with start and stop destinations on the first, and optional intermediate destinations on the second screen. This was created from the theory, less-is-more, working with simplicity as user interaction stages.

Less is more, but only when it is truly less. Since this is rarely the case, less can quickly become less, when the simplicity is superficial or misguided. The user in this scenario would have to enter his or hers start and stop destination, then move on to the next screen, loosing the references of the first screen. On the second screen, the user would have to gain yet another overview of the screen, as the content has changed. In this scenario, less is less, as the reference is lost, when it is needed, confusing the user. By combining the two screens, adding an optional intermediate destination button, that would insert new destination into the travel plan, would create a greater overview and comfort for the user, reducing stress. As progressive interaction yields a higher level of overview and comfort for the user, the strategy creates higher level of success and loyalty from the users.

Progressive interaction was not my only thought, when I suggested to combine the screens, as I also had the system architecture and management resources in mind. By creating two screens, this would also create two sets of controls in the system, which doesn’t sound like much extra work.

The additional screen creates one more screen to test, one more screen to debug, one more screen to layout, on more screen to approve, on more screen to adjust, one more screen to fail, one more screen to document, one more screen to project manage, one more screen to ticket.

Simplicity isn’t just about user interactions, it’s just as important under the hood, throughout the entire project. Combining the interaction strategy with system architecture, will reduce cost and resources, by creating a better, quicker and more efficient product, that both user, stakeholders and deadlines will benefit from.

This article is from the book, Product Design Dilemmas. A modern design ideology for customer driven designers and managers.