The easiest way to simplify a system is to remove functionality.
The tricky thing here is that on the one hand, you want to be easy to use; on the other hand you want it to do everything that a person might want it to do.
One thing you have to know for sure: “When in doubt, just remove”. But be careful of what you remove.
How can you be careful?
Fortunately, there is always data available for you to inform your decisions. There are competitors, best practices. You can conduct some user interviews based on your target audience. You don’t have to make assumptions.
Our usual preference is to let live what lives: we would choose to keep all the functionality if we could.
When it is possible to reduce a system’s functionality without significant penalty, true simplification is realized.
When everything that can be removed is removed, three methods can be applied: shrink, hide, embody.
Making things smaller doesn’t make them necessarily better, but when made so we tend to have a more forgiving attitude towards their existence. A larger-than-human-scale object demands its rightful respect, whereas a tiny object can be something that deserves our pity.
Any design that incorporates whitespace and thinness conveys the impression of being smaller, lesser, and humbler.
The science of making an object appear delicate and fragile is a skill practiced throughout the history of art.
As features go into hiding and products shrink, it becomes even more necessary to embed the object with a sense of the value that is lost after hide and shrink.
Perceived excellence can be programmed into consumers with the power of marketing. When we see a super-athlete like Michael Jordan wearing Nikes, we can’t help but imbue the sneakers with some of his heroic qualities. Suggestion is powerful.
Another example can be the usage of the so called “hero” images with a tiny bit of text displayed using super sized fonts. However this can be considered a lazy approach but it can be really effective if you pick a strong relevant image with a powerful succinct message.
A short example of applying “reduce” law
We will try to redesign an existing shop in order to explain how reduction can be applied without significant penalty:
First, we will take the navigation section. Here’s how it looks:
As you already saw, this navigation section is very busy and it’s very confusing. If this is your first visit on this site and you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, this navigation will probably assure you that you will not easily find what you’re looking for.
Now, let’s try to apply what we’ve learned:
In few words, what we did was removing all the extra links from the top navigation into one button called “Menu”. When the user hover over this button they will see the the links from the top right navigation like “Williams Sonoma, WS Home…” and the links below the logo like “New, Inspiration, Free design service”.
We afford to do this without significant penalty because these links are not so important because the user needs to see what is expecting, more exactly the products, so that’s why we’ve put the products categories in the center.
We’ve reduced the search and the checkout to something more meaningful. Now you see directly if you have something in your cart and makes it easier to read. The search is reduced to a button, so you will see the search bar just when you need it.
So, by just applying one law we’ve managed to significantly reduce the “noise” without any damage to the shopping experience. More than this we’ve actually improved it by making just few changes.
Less is more!
This article is inspired by “The Laws of Simplicity” by John Maeda.