Stop adding complexity – be an undesigner

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How do you make something better? Human instinct often tells us we should add something to improve it. Give it bells and whistles. Make it more complicated.

The logic is sometimes correct. Adding an alarm clock to a radio works for someone who wants to be woken up by the radio in the morning.

But the same logic badly applied leads you to Homer’s car.

The results of an intriguing experiment with marketing emails suggests that the effort most people put into designing their campaigns is not worth it. In fact, in Greg Kogan’s experiment, the plain text email containing the same content performed better. It had 3.3 times more clicks than the email with the shiny design.

Greg Kogan suggests a number of reasons why the plain email might work better. I suspect it is another form of banner blindness, where users avoid looking at anything that looks like an ad, whether it is an ad or not.

This is yet another reason why you need to focus on your message first, and visuals later (if at all). It’s no use how nice something looks if its function is wrong.

In fact, removing elements and making thing simpler is likely to make your product perform better. If anything, design needs to be unobtrusive. It needs to get out of people’s way. If your users notice the design, something is probably going wrong.

When working on a website’s information architecture, you will often achieve the best results by removing pages. In a visual interface, removing unnecessary clutter will improve its performance.

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We need to resist the temptation to keep adding complexity. We all need to be undesigners.

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