In today’s hectic world, humans are increasingly drawn to simplicity. Stemming from a rising need for everyday efficiency and speed, we are in constant search for the next new technology that will make our lives easier.
While this inclination toward simplicity is likely intuitive for most aspects of modern life, we often see the opposite phenomenon in web design due to the pervasive belief that simple design cannot be as compelling as more complex iterations. We can see examples of this belief across design in all genres. Whether it be a product, graphic, interaction, or even user experience and user interface (UX/UI), we see designs with too much visual information or functionality, leaving users distracted, confused, or even frustrated.
What Does “Simple” Really Mean?
Let’s quickly take a look at the definition for the word “simple” in two ways:
Adj; “easily understood or done, presenting no difficulty.” – Lexico, by Oxford Languages
Adj; “plain, basic, or uncomplicated in form, nature, or design; without much decoration or ornamentation.” – Lexico, by Oxford Languages
The primary focus of web design and development should always be to create a simple design as given in our first definition. Designs created with an emphasis on ease of use offer accessibility by allowing the end-user to easily predict expected behavior and outcomes. This thought process allows for the creation of an efficient design that enables users to complete their intended actions quickly and seamlessly.
This is especially important when creating an accessible design as it relates to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) principles. Outlined in four main categories, these principles state that accessible technology must be made perceivable (P), operable (O), understandable (U), and robust (R). While these P.O.U.R. principles specifically apply to accessible design, their concepts not only benefit users with disabilities but for all end users. By adhering to these principles, we further the idea that functionality enhances design, rather than diminishing it.
Design for Simplicity Over Complexity
The apprehension to develop designs deemed as anything less than ground-breaking or visually stunning leads to a design that creates more problems for end-users than it solves. As web developers and designers attempt to keep up with the ever-evolving feature race of the web, we continue to see overly complex web designs. This complexity is significantly detrimental as it often leaves users unsure of what information they should be acknowledging or how they are expected to interact with the page in the first place.
Whether it be websites with cluttered page elements, inconsistent colors, and shapes, complicated carousels packed with information, or unclear navigation, unnecessary complexity in web design is widespread and the need for developing with accessibility in mind has never been greater.
Breaking the Stigma of Simple Design
As said by Steve Jobs, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Simple and straightforward web design enhances the user experience, which begs the question, how do we foster the idea that simple design can be both functionally revolutionary and visually appealing?