Eric Karjaluoto

Play “Take Away”

In interaction design there’s no shortage of options—and quite often this is the very problem that designers and users must grapple with. One more menu, one more link, one more treatment … You see where I’m going with this. The ability to add elements eventually results in a less pleasing user experience.

No one wants to produce a convoluted website or application. In fact, the opposite is the case: most involved in these projects worry that their design won’t be sufficiently explicit, which leads them to add more: tooltips, explanations, multiple ways to fulfill the same function. Or, they start making elements larger in an effort draw attention to important information and areas. (But one can reason that all parts hold special relevance, resulting in every element needing to be made larger or somehow more prominent—which ultimately negates the treatment.)

Although the effort to be explicit in apps and websites is admirable, this aspiration is flawed: much like giving your kids a printed manual listing all the dangers in the world, in hopes of protecting them. Instead, interaction designers should seek to create experiences in which usage is implicit.

One of the best ways to produce a design with implicit functions is to limit options and elements. If, for example, I find myself stuck in some part of an application, and there’s only one button available, I’ll probably test it—regardless of whether it’s accompanied by descriptive text. This is the same approach that helps Apple products work so well: their designers determine key uses, remove options, and allow users to discover functionality through use—not explanation.

So, try this when you’re next working on an interface. Print out your wireframes (or comps) tape them to the wall, and grab a big red marker. Then, along with your colleagues, cross out every element you can remove. At first, this will feel intimidating: like you’re throwing away all your hard work, or putting yourself at risk of producing a boring design. Pay these worries no mind: anything you find a means of taking away, without impeding usage, will result in a simpler and more intuitive user experience. (And we can all use more of those.)

Could your site work without a Privacy and Terms page? Probably. Would users understand what your app did, if your site didn’t have an About page? Perhaps (you might just need to convey that information in another way). Do you even need a logo? Possibly not, but that one’s going to be hard to take away—regardless of how sound your logic for doing so might be.

Interaction design contains many conventions that are unnecessary, flawed, or outdated—and now becoming redundant. Therefore, these approaches are all ripe for us to challenge. In doing so, many of the norms that once seemed necessary will eventually be deemed passé. So, get out that marker and start playing Take Away. The result might be an experience that feels obvious for users.

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