In recent years designers have become advocates of everything minimal and simplistic. Clean and flat designs have become the norm and have even set the look and feel for most modern applications out there.
The argument behind this movement is that it makes the whole experience easier for the user and helps us focus on the important information and actions. Any designer who doesn’t adhere to this point of view might be viewed as old-fashioned or amateurish.
I myself am a staunch believer in this ideal and often try to take my work in that direction, however I have found that it’s not always so cut and dry. Reality can be very different and often we have to admit that against our better judgment we might have to complicate things a bit.
Unless we’re creating a startup application/site for a small company or agency than it’s very hard to keep it clean and simple.
Our users/clients have a different view than ours:
We know it’s true… our users aren’t always “design” orientated and all they care about is the content. This means that very often they want complicated menus or thousands of pages each one completely different from the previous page.
It’s our job as designers to find solutions to the problems with Mega Drop-down menus and variable pages etc. but even so, we might still land up with the feeling of too much for so little.
As long as the site/applications architecture is logical and well thought out, even a complicated solution can work well for you.
We have to work on top of existing content:
Whenever I am presented with a project that consists of a site or application redesign and what I have to work with is already complicated, I often feel like closing myself inside a dark closet and crying.
Here we have to e careful because even if we look at the site and realise that the information architecture just needs to be fixed it’s not that simple, because we can’t just decide that a page need to go in a new place or category and just change it.
I like to sit down and make a list of all the pages even in a simple excel (content audit article) that I can quickly note which page will need redirects or simple removal and keep the process as organised as possible.
We also have to accept that many user have become used to finding certain things in certain places so who are we to say it should be somewhere else? Here I like to set up a nice message that informs clients of the change and why it was made either on the page or in an email newsletter.
I also feel it’s important to break up the process into various parts, where I slowly start adding the “under the hood improvements” such as reorganising the content and structure and only go onto the new complete design when I feel that some logic has been created out of the chaos.
We are the designers, not the users:
Yes, I hate to admit it too, but we the designer often lose track of the most important fact: “Ultimately we are not the users”.
Of course we might be one of the users, but we can’t speak for all of them and often solutions that we come up with are pleasing to the eye, real works of digital art, but they cater to a very small niche of designers or people who like to try anything new.
The real truth is that most of the users out there just want something that’s going to make life easier. They don’t need their weather app to make them a cup of coffee or start their car if that doesn’t make sense in the app or if it’s going to lower the quality of the product.
I’ve read various articles online where designers have had to give up those nice minimal hamburger menus we like so much for a more visible form of navigation because tests show that users prefer a visible menu as opposed to an invisible one. So we have to accept that the sometimes user will tell us the best option, even if it’s going to add bulk to our product.
At the end of the day the designers job is to find the best solution and more often than not we have to go against the latest trends but that doesn’t mean we have to see that as a bad thing. It means we often have to find the beauty in the complicated and maybe turn that complication into a work of art that is different from what most are doing.
Our clients/users will surprise us at every turn and sometimes, just when we think we know them, they might adhere to some experiment of yours that you did just as a test, but weren’t expecting to have any results.
They might also teach you how to look at complicated ideas in a new light, I know that’s often happened to me, so don’t give up on the complicated just yet.
How about you? Do you have interesting story you would like to share?