Category Technology
Publication date
18 November 2016

Championing Simplicity

So you've got a project. It's going to be amazing. You've dreamed up loads of functionality and are just itching to let it loose on the world. It's going to look fantastic, and everyone on the design team is ecstatic about the proposed look and feel.

Man, it's gonna be great!

But then a little voice pipes up: 'It's too complicated! We're trying to do too much! Can't we simplify this?' Nobody wants to listen to the nay-sayer, and the project proceeds apace. In due course, the complicated and extensive nature of the project begins to take its toll. Budgets run dry. Completion dates make a faint whizzing noise as they fly by. And yet the project isn't finished. Cracks appear, bugs sneak through and by the end, you just can't wait until it's over. The love of your life has turned into a horror-show that is slowly leeching the joy from existence.

The little voice, long forgotten, can no longer even be heard.

Let's do things differently! On time, on budget, in scope and on point. Wouldn't that be lovely? One important strategy on any project is the championing of simplicity. For any given item, be it design, feature or content, is to ask: "Can this be simplified? Is it currently over-complicated?"

Simple does not mean Stupid

A simple site need not be one that is devoid of functionality. Nor is it one with an overly simplistic data model or information architecture. It is one which has had the fat trimmed from it; it only includes the elements that are actually needed. Often it is in the identification of the actual needs and the elimination of flights of fancy that the greatest challenge and real rewards lie.

Simple is not Ugly

A simple design will capture the elegance of form, forgoing the unnecessary in the pursuit of perfection. In this era of responsive design, simplicity shines. Single column, full width designs are far more readily made responsive than more complex designs. Accessibility also benefits from simplicity. Naturally, the fewer tricks, hacks and workarounds used to bring a design to light, the more likely it is to be accessible by default. Also, with less thinking needed for the actual design implementation, it leaves more room to build the site in such a way as to benefit the most people.

Drupal is rather opinionated in the way it expects you to build your website's theme. That can be a frustrating experience, if you have not learned how it works. However, imperfect as it is, the theme system is very, very powerful and can actually help a themer to realise that design dream. The simplicity champion says: work with the system, don't fight it. Figure out the Drupal way and make it work for your design. Simplicity lends itself to theme harmony.

Lastly, minimalism as a design school is a beautiful thing, albeit sometimes difficult to achieve. Simplicity strips away the noise from a design until you are left with just the signal.

Simple will not be Useless

Simplicity includes the functionality that people need to get things done. It eliminates the things that people never use. You might look at eye tracking or click tracking data to figure out what people use and iterate your design to improve it over time. Real data from real users is invaluable for this process.

A simplicity champion will also reign in the wilder ideas of functionality: for example, maybe you don't need full, continuous, synchronous communication between your CRM and your website. Maybe one-way communication (i.e. web-to-lead style communication) would actually be sufficient. Or maybe periodic data imports from the site meets all the requirements, in which case the site only needs to be able to export data.

A simplicity champion will not be blinded by a request that comes tightly coupled with a suggested solution, but will reach beyond to figure out the real core requirements and design solutions to meet those.

Simple will be Beautifully Functional

On a massive scale, Google is simple. In effect, it's a one page website with only an input field and then some results returned. But at heart it is beautifully functional. You type in your request, it gives you back suggestions. We love this approach and try to make it work on all projects that we design and build. Take, for example, the website of the Department of the Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. A limited colour palette, simple fonts, a simple layout... and a great-looking site that works across devices and transforms what was once a highly complex maze of documents into a very easy to use, information rich asset for the department and all its customers.

Overly Complex is always Expensive & Difficult to Maintain

Complex sites are not only more difficult and costly to build, but this trend continues throughout the lifecycle of the project. With many moving parts, changes need to be planned with greater care and tested far more extensively in order to avoid unintended consequences. Even supposedly simple changes can become large enterprises. Sometimes complexity is unavoidable and that is fine: all these hurdles can be overcome, but it is worth considering the long term effect of your design & requirements choices at the beginning of your project. Your site is not just for Christmas.

Websites Are Like Whiskey

Minimalism is the art of stripping back everything unneeded until you are just left with the core of necessity. In this way, a minimalist site can be thought of like a good whiskey. On the surface, it's simple to look at and made of only a handful of ingredients. But its minimalist appearance belies the depth of complexity present in the process through which it is distilled into being. Skilled craftspeople with decades of knowledge put their love of their craft to use to build you the ultimate product.

Just like excellent whiskey, excellent websites are the product of a process honed over thousands of hours of experience, resulting in beautiful, simple sites that are a joy to use.

Would you like to benefit from our crafting process? Contact us to chat about how we can bring the beauty of simplicity to your project.

Profile picture for user Anthony Lindsay

Anthony Lindsay Director of Managed Services

With decades of experience, Anthony leads the Annertech Managed Services Team, delivering top quality design, development, and, ultimately peace-of-mind services to all of Annertech's wonderful clients.