20 Apr 2012 Spacer Less may be more in design for digital interfaces
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Less may be more in design for digital interfaces

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove." -  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French Writer (1900-1944)

Perfection in this case refers to minimalism, where the goal is to expose the essence of a design by removing all non-essential forms.

 In the early days of interaction design, extensive metaphors were used to communicate the purpose of designs through the recreation of real world interactions. These metaphors were developed to ensure a user had the correct mental model when delving into a new user experience, understanding what can be clicked, opened or moved by linking it directly with something in reality.

 A great example of this is the concept of a desktop for the interaction with a PC, and the rendering of folders and icons that represent real world objects, such as the recycle bin used as a literal metaphor for where 'trash files' belong. Because this interaction was completely new, this approach was almost necessary to provide a clear understanding of how the behaviour was to function and what the user was expected to do.

The process of ornamenting interactive elements is often referred to in design circles as "chrome". In web design this is most often represented by faux shadows, gradients and textures to represent real world objects.

The argument for a less is more approach, particularly in web design, is that users now have a developed sense of what may be interacted with. When presented within an interface, the necessity of extreme ornamentation that represents real world objects is no longer essential, due to the user being familiar with the behaviour that is expected.

Furthermore, the benefits of minimalism, and its success, have been proven everywhere. Take product design; companies like Apple have established their core ideology around it. The iPhone and the iPad are successful for a variety of reasons, one of those being because of their simplicity and their ease of use. Apple achieves this by removing all unnecessary embellishment and reducing the form down to the essential elements required for interaction.

A minimalistic approach to web design can have many benefits when done correctly and with the ever-growing popularity of mobile browsing it is almost a necessary approach. This is due to a decrease in screen real estate, which forces designers to think about what is really necessary. Less screen real estate leaves no room for superfluous chrome obligating designers to remove any unnecessary ornamentation that will detract from the core user experience.

In many cases, extensive rendering of real world elements now hinders the user experience. Over-ornamentation confuses the user and designers are forced to add even more chrome to provide hints to where a user should click, interact or look next.

An example of this is an online representation of a book. The expected interaction of turning a page may be replaced with a mouse click. Instead of imitating physical interactions like this, the appropriate use of typography, colour, weight and animation can enhance interaction by improving visibility and affordance to more important elements by removing those that are not. The popularity of this online design approach is evident through the acceptance of content readers such as Instapaper, Readability and Flipbook. These applications use a minimalist, easy-to-read design to separate content from the overly graphical elements of a web page. Mike Kruzeniski, current creative director for Windows Phone at Microsoft wrote in relation to this trend;

 "[it is] unfortunate that 'Design' has become synonymous with noise, overly graphic, heavily decorated, ornamented experiences that stand in the way of content."

He goes on to explain the benefit of looking to print design as inspiration for improving interaction, by bringing content to the fore and allowing it in itself to beautify the user experience. Great examples of this content-first approach in print design are the advertising campaigns from the Mad Men era. These designs portrayed products in a clear, concise manner, where there is no question about what is being communicated. They illustrated that the content itself creates an atmosphere, through striking use of colour, typography, and bold use of white space. The content presented in this way can be as effective, if not more effective, than chrome.

As designers, our job isn't to create artistic masterpieces, but rather to develop well-thought-out cohesive interactions. The advantage of taking the minimalist, less-is-more approach allows us to focus on the purpose of a website, thus delivering content in a clear, unobtrusive way. Focusing on what is necessary creates a user experience that is honest to the medium it was designed for. And paying more attention to the use of colour, typography and animation allows content to provide the ornamentation to beautify the interaction.

A key advocate of this approach - design demi-god Dieter Rams - outlined the ten most important principles of good design, one of which is key to this design approach:

"Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better - because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity."

Less is better.


How Print Design is the Future of Interaction


POSTED IN General / Inspiration

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