I’m with simple

The move towards beautiful and elegant online user experiences is simplicity, and Nic Ricketts is beguiled.

Simple and usable –
web, mobile and interaction design

by Giles Colborne
208pp, New Riders

I’m with simple

Like Steve Krug’s seminal ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, this book is a slim volume, and rightly so for a primer on how to eschew obfuscation and deliver more from less.

But while Krug’s book was full of humorous ‘aha’ moments, Giles Colborne’s ‘Simple and Usable’ takes a more forensic view of user expectations and perceptions. In this sense, it shows just how far online marketing has matured in the 11 years since Krug’s book was published in its first edition, but equally, how so little has changed in our understanding of the way people buy, behave and interact online.

Colborne splits the task of creating simplicity – and, in so doing, enhancing usability in web design – into four strategies entitled Remove, Organise, Hide and Replace. To illustrate how this works he redesigns a physical item we’re all familiar with, the DVD remote.

This immediately hits the right tone.  It seems developers can’t help themselves adding more features or bells and whistles that work against user immersion in the online world. This is probably because of a disconnect between specifiers, designers and developers. While most savvy online retailers have usually got the user experience nailed, their aspirations for online behaviour is controlled by branding and routes to market. But, in the B2B world, the call-to-action is not so pointed nor obvious.

Reading Colborne’s words about complexity I was reminded of those terrible PowerPoint presentations we’ve all sat through where the amount of data on each slide was almost a firing offence. Many sites still overcomplicate or frustrate your flow, forcing you to make unnecessary choices, more importantly, working against their own business objectives.

Colborne distinguishes between different types of user, breaking them down into Experts, Willing Adopters and Mainstreamers, and describing their attitude to technology and the motivations that drive them. He provides anecdotal examples from the likes of Apple and Pixar, and the way these companies think laterally about the user experience.

It’s clear that putting yourself in the user’s POV is key but users don’t buy on intuition alone, you still have to lead them to make the decisions you want them to make. Simple enough you’d think, but where the book shines is in telling you how to do that – in a clean way – without appearing condescending or controlling. Colborne manages to make his points with a lightness of touch that can be directly applied online.

‘Simple and Usable’ is required reading for anyone involved in – or interested in – web design and usability, and that’s pretty much anyone with a browser at the end of a broadband connection. I read it in one sitting and just let Colborne’s engaging – and unarguably persuasive – prose flow into me.

This tightly written, insightful book will get you thinking about your own site, and the sites of your customers. But, more than that, it might even lead you to simplify a lot more in your business interactions, whether they are with partners, suppliers or customers.