Time and time again I find myself (and my projects) coming back to the same core principle for improving the user experience on information Websites, Web apps, and the like. That principle is: Simplify.

Three areas where simplifying can help are in:

  • Language
  • Visuals
  • Navigation

Simplify Language

I came across a great article in New Scientist about technical writing and simplicity.  The author points to a set of 1,000 common English language words, and challenges scientists to use these in explaining technical concepts.

The same can be said for any Website or Web-based application. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen sites and apps that use the language or terminology of the developer or content specialist in an organization, without providing glossary, pop-up help or assistance with the terminology.

Jakob Nielsen’s recent review of Healthcare.gov, the troubled Web-based insurance enrollment application, includes an assessment of the grade level to which the site is written (9th Grade Level). He thinks that’s too high for the broad audience for which it’s intended, and recommends the language be instead 6th Grade Level. Here is one listing of a 6th Grade Vocabulary.  A lot of sites could be improved by checking site vocabulary against such a list.

Government sites like Healthcare.gov one also need to adhere to the Plain Language Principles put forth by the Plain English Network.

Simplify Visuals

If your site or app feels “busy”, it may be important to limit a Website or app’s visuals to images that a) need to be there to engage and direct the user, and b) are an instant read. In other word, images that pull their own weight.

This becomes especially important when users access your site on their mobile device.  An image that played well (or so you thought) on a large-screen monitor may not read on an iPhone.  And, yes, different images can be called up for display on mobile devices, but we are talking simplicity here, so you have to ask yourself if you really want to manage different visual assets.

Find the images that communicate the core concepts.

When it comes to icons, there are a lot of stock images to draw from now.  But don’t try to combine different parts of one icon and another.  The essence of an icon is to communicate a single concept, not generate a complex idea from multiple icons.

Simplify Navigation

Simplifying navigation can be a challenge, but it’s definitely worth some thought, as it pays big dividends.  It may mean doing any or all of the following:

  • Reducing the number of steps in a process (used to be 5? Now it’s 3? Far out.)
  • Reducing the number of global navigation “tabs” (used to be 8? now it’s 6? Much better)
  • Eliminating unnecessary tasks for the user through automated processes (that’s what computers are for, remember?)

The Payoff

This may all seem like a lot of work to do this much simplification. Is it worth it?  The dividends I referred to can be major:

  • More users reaching your website’s “finish line” – whatever that is
  • More leads / customers calling
  • More constituents getting what they need from you
  • Improved customer satisfaction

So, simply put – give simplicity the respect it deserves. It’s a ingredient to a good user experience.




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