Complicating the uncomplicated — UX


“The most complicated skill is to be simple.” 
Dejan Stojanovic

We carry out activities on a daily basis which involve an interaction to complete a task; whether that be switching on a light, turning on a kettle or even opening a door.

Although these aren’t digital tasks, observing this behavior can assist us with creating online experiences.

Complicating the uncomplicated

We sometimes over complicate online tasks. For example, by giving the user instructions on how to complete a task when the action is already clear, can over-complicate if unnecessary. This can be great, but sometimes can cause the user a delay in completing the task whilst they process the instruction, without solving a real problem.

Clear text instructions may be the only answer, but if something is complicated ask yourself “should it be?” before just adding text as a ‘quick’ fix.

Focusing on the core problem

Credit: — Photo: Yung Chang

I’ll draw a comparison here with successful businesses/ideas which started purely as a scaled back MVP. By releasing the MVP of their product they focused on the one problem they were trying to solve; they didn’t have a chance to spend long evenings focusing on the wrong things and adding unnecessary finesse.

Once the MVP was out in the market they then added features that users really wanted. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend this brief post from 2014 by ‘General Assembly’ entitled ‘5 Successful Businesses that got huge by starting small’.

Turn the handle

PANIC! You’ve turned the handle the wrong way

Take this example of a door below. The user already knows they need to turn the handle as it’s a process we complete every single day; it’s ingrained in us. Take this simple task and imagine it’s an online task. No doubt we would do the following things:

  • Add a label instructing “Please turn door handle down”
  • If the user tries to turn the handle another way, make the handle turn red with an error message stating typically stating something like “Please turn the handle the other way”.

When all we needed was the handle.

We all know those doors which don’t have a handle, instead just a metal plate with ‘push’ written on it. Do we need a label? There’s physically nothing to pull open, there’s no room for error. If someone doesn’t understand at first, they’ll learn very quickly and remember that on future interactions.

Likewise, you do see on occasions a ‘pull’ handle which in fact requires a ‘push’ motion. That highlights the need to be ‘predictable’ rather than bonkers.

Turn on the light

Credit: — Photo: Nick de Partee

There’s lots of weird and wonderful light switches out there but we know how to turn a light on. There’s ‘usually’ a simple switch (in the UK anyway) which needs to be pressed. If this was a digital experience no doubt it would go along the following lines:

  • Add a clear label instructing “please select button to turn on the light”
  • The light switch would then display a clear label of “OFF” in capital letters.
  • A border will be transitioned around the switch for approx 2 seconds until the light is clearly on. *Only if it’s an energy saving light bulb.
  • Once turned on; the light switch colour would be saturated by approximately 20% or a grey colour
  • The label would transition to the left with an ‘on’ label slickly sliding in from the right.

We know what the simple button should do.

*There are variations of light switches; dimmer switches for example and if you have multiple switches in different locations controlling one singular light, can cause confusion. For my above example I’m only referring to the traditional (in the UK anyway) buttons.

Predicting the unpredictable

We’re all guilty of sometimes going over the top, resulting in us patronising or wrapping our users ‘up in cotton wool’. As the old saying goes “we design to solve a problem”. A good design enables us to complete an action in the most efficient way, not just to be visually appealing. We aim to provide predictable experiences but sometimes try to ‘predict’ the unpredictable where it may not need predicting.

You could use me writing this blog as an example, I’ve kept going back and editing bits as I started waffling on and on and frankly started to bore myself. In the end I lost sight as to why I wrote this, so I reverted it back to my first draft and found that was enough. But I’ll let you be the judge of that…

But why?

This may seem a ridiculous way to analyse it and to some of you it probably is, but by breaking these tasks down you can clearly see if there is a problem which requires fixing.

Digitally we would of course have usability testing, but this kind of simple task can be thought about whilst prototyping and designing.

The main point I’m trying to cover is, a nice user experience doesn’t have to be complicated. It should be clear enough, stripped down to it’s basic state. If it doesn’t work at this state then why not? You’ve identified a clear problem and that’s where you can really focus your attention and add value.


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