Jun 11, 2013

Don't Over-Think


This post is part of a series on Design for Engagement.

Engagement > Immediacy >

Easy to Understand

Great design communicates implicitly
Easy to understand means people recognize the purpose and use of your design without thinking about it. Easy to understand means: users subconsciously recognize the design affordances. For example, a button that looks like a button is far more likely to be pressed than a button that looks like, say, a picture.

Simplicity, in the sense of a small number of design elements or very few choices, contributes to making a design easy to understand. If a design looks complicated, people won’t pay attention to it. Recognition of the right choice from among two options is more immediate than a selection from eight options. In fact, choosing becomes exponentially more difficult with each additional option.

The Nest Thermostat is easy to understand
The NEST thermostat is an example of easy to understand.  It's design lowers cognitive effort by i) displaying the temperature prominently, and thereby clearly signalling the purpose of the device; and ii) removing the need to think about setting it, through learning and automation.

Images of flies on urinals in JFK and Schipol airports are also examples of easy to understand design, as are speed bumps on roads. People respond to these designs with the desired behaviours without thinking. In the case of the urinals, men naturally aim nearer the drain. In the case of the speedbumps, drivers naturally slow down.

Written copy should be simple. Keep sentences short and grammar simple.  The meaning of a sentence written in passive voice is less immediate. Active voice sentences are immediate. Avoid adjectives.

Bottom line

  • Less is more. Achieve simplicity through minimalism.
  • Every feature and element of a design should be focussed on one single, clear proposition.
  • The proposition should solve a problem the user knows they have.


What do you think? How do you make your proposition easy to understand? I'd appreciate your suggestions and thoughts. Leave a comment below. Please engage.


This post is part of a series on Design for Engagement.

If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out  my other blog.

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