Complexity or Simplicity

design

#1

Hello,

What is better? Simple, easy-to-use designs? Or should a more sophisticated design be in place? I’m not sure. I’ve designed many web applications before, and am currently in the process of writing a bulletin board system. The thing is, I’m not sure what users like more. I, as the designer and programmer of applications, enjoy sophistication, with plenty of features and uses. But I’m not so sure…

Just recently my cousin and my friend have both been talking about how I design stuff. They say that people enjoy a simple interface. But then, I thought that maybe it’s just your audience? Perhaps the common person who knows little about the Internet and web usage wouldn’t know about tooltips or advanced DHTML controls such as sliders and popup menus.

I don’t know. Just a basic question here. More of a survey or something so I can figure out how to make my applications and websites more accessbile. Any ideas? Just general feedback? I don’t need any help.

Thanks for your time.


Jordan M


#2

It definitely depends on your audience, but if you are writing a bulletin board system yourself, why not have an option in the control panel for “advanced users” that will show or hide all of the extras depending on whether it is checked or not?

Check out Gordaen’s Knowledge, the blog, and the MR2 page.


#3

That makes sense. Perhaps having a settings-based system where visitors and users may change viewing and complexity settings, such as turning off features, would help. This way, you can attract all sorts of people to your website or to use your application, and still maintain a proper amount of useful features.

I’ll definitely add something like this.


Jordan M


#4

As a web developer and designer, I like to create cool stuff that is slick and sophisticated. But as a user, I prefer simplicity. I like designs with plenty of white space, user-friendly functionality, and easily accessible content. I detest Flash/DHTML stuff (which is rarely accessible), and I cannot stand miniscule font sizes and complex routes to content.

Nowadays, it is all about graceful degradation. Start with an accessible, functional site that gives easy access to all your content. Then carefully add visual design and behaviors in a way that doesn’t make getting at the content more difficult. Remember that sophistication is not the same as complexity, but they can be if your system is poorly designed.

The user is the most important element in everything you do. It doesn’t matter how clever you are at building complex, fancy user interfaces and widgets as long as your user can easily access your content.


Simon Jessey | Keystone Websites
Save $97 on yearly plans with promo code [color=#CC0000]SCJESSEY97[/color]


#5

I agree with some of this. However, DHTML I see is needed today more than ever in large-scale projects. This is because DHTML includes JavaScript, which is how Ajax functionality is added. So, I believe that implementing DHTML technology is quite necessary today if you want to do something that is popping up more and more today.

As for small font sizes, that probably comes from large corporational websites. It’s not really necessary… Microsoft loves 8 to 10 pixel font sizes. I used to always use 7 pixel Verdana as my font. But now, as an effect that my friends and family have had on me, I’m slowly moving towards a size such as 10 or 12, but no more than 14 for sure.

But the pieces of advice that you gave were great. I think that an application or website should start off simple, always. And add the features in ways that still maintain cleanliness and ease of use, not clutteredness. Even in sophisticated designs, I don’t like menus being shoved up by advertisements and the article to read right beside that.


Jordan M


#6

So, let me ask you this. We all know Google keeps a simple design and interface in all their applications. But what about a website like… say… PHP.net? What type of website do you see PHP.net as: simple, complex, what? Also, what do you think of something like that? Maybe my idea of simple is completely different from yours.


Jordan M


#7

[quote]I agree with some of this. However, DHTML I see is needed today more than ever in large-scale projects. This is because DHTML includes JavaScript, which is how Ajax functionality is added.

We all know Google keeps a simple design and interface in all their applications. But what about a website like… say… PHP.net? What type of website do you see PHP.net as: simple, complex, what? Also, what do you think of something like that? Maybe my idea of simple is completely different from yours.[/quote]
First of all, I wouldn’t get all gooey-eyed over Ajax. Most implementations of Ajax, including those employed by Google, are completely inaccessible. Ajax is simply a way of using client-side technology to perform functions normally limited to server-side technology in an attempt to give the user more feedback. Sadly, it is poorly applied 99.9% of the time.

Any behavioral elements, Ajax included, should only be added to websites as enhancements that don’t interfere with accessibility. The current approach (such as in Google Maps) is to create sites that can ONLY function with JavaScript and a mouse. Although the design of Google’s sites are simple on the surface, underneath they are typically very complex and inaccessible (except their standard Search package, which is just fine).

PHP.net is a complex site, and far from user-friendly; however, it is just fine for the target audience who are familiar with that particular kind of site. I have no trouble navigating around it and finding the information I need; however, if the same site structure and functionality were used to present kitchen furniture, my mother would find it difficult to navigate.

I think a perfect example to discuss is the DreamHost Control Panel, which we are all intimately familiar with. As a web developer/designer, I love it. I can access everything I need, and it works exactly as I expect it to.

But to Joe User who just wants to sell his pottery, and perhaps run a blog, it is awful. It is a usability and accessibility nightmare, it relies on JavaScript and cookies, and it is uglier than the Guitar God’s girlfriend.


Simon Jessey | Keystone Websites
Save $97 on yearly plans with promo code [color=#CC0000]SCJESSEY97[/color]


#8

–emphais is mine…

ha ha… cool!
–rlparker


#9

Well designed applications can be both, but ease-of-use is usually more important so figure that part out first and then add sophisitcation within those constraints. As Simon has said, the important thing is to know your audience and know what level of complexity they will be comfortable with.

If you’re not doing any usability testing, start now. Test early, and test often. You’ll learn a lot just by watching how someone else uses your application.


If you want useful replies, ask smart questions.


#10

I think that in 2006 we can safely write web applications that rely on cookies to maintain state. The only alternative is to put session IDs in URLs, which has its own problems.


If you want useful replies, ask smart questions.


#11

Well, this information has certainly proved useful. Thanks a lot for the thoughts.


Jordan M


#12

I disagree, because it is becoming increasingly important for websites to support user agents that have either poor or no support for cookies or JavaScript. Many cellular phones, PDAs, and TVs fall in this category. Lots of folks still disable JavaScript and cookies (which I think is pretty dumb) for one reason or another.

My philosophy has always been to try and create sites that don’t rely on any of these technologies, but employ them as enhancements instead.


Simon Jessey | Keystone Websites
Save $97 on yearly plans with promo code [color=#CC0000]SCJESSEY97[/color]


#13

I agree about JavaScript. It would be nice if we could count on it being there, but I do understand that JS support is seriously lacking in all sorts of non-traditional user-agents. I don’t much care about people who intentionally disable it, as they generally know what they’re getting into, although I do make sure things will still work.

Cookies though, can you actually name one user-agent that doesn’t support them? I’m not being confrontational; I’m genuinely curious. I’ve never heard this before.


If you want useful replies, ask smart questions.


#14

My phone doesn’t support either JavaScript or Cookies (and although it claims to have an XHTML browser, it doesn’t recognize the XHTML mime types).


Simon Jessey | Keystone Websites
Save $97 on yearly plans with promo code [color=#CC0000]SCJESSEY97[/color]


#15

I definitely agree about using JS and other such features as additions and enhancements only on most sites. If you have a controlled audience, you can create a site that depends on certain technologies, but most user bases are rather varied. Everything should degrade as gracefully as possible. I’ve seen all kinds of web forms that require javascript in order to be submitted. There is no need to require it, but the creator was too lazy to properly code it. With the large user base I have to deal with at work, a significant portion of my time is spent ensuring content is accessible in about a half-dozen test browsers and with or without JavaScript.

Of course, it also depends on the site owners. For instance, if 99.9% of people who visit X site have JavaScript enabled, then the owner of X site might see it as a waste of money to have the developer take the time to add graceful degradability.

Now, we’re getting a bit off topic. To further add to the original thought, I think accessibility needs to be the primary focus. Having user selectable interfaces is great (allowing them to control what they see). In many cases it isn’t a case of whether a person would know how to use a feature, but whether it is something they might use. On a lot of forums, there is a quick reply at the bottom of a thread. If you don’t need any of the extras of the “fancy” editor, you can save time and throw the content in the quick reply box.

Designing a BB system is quite a bit of work, so I’d suggest making a HUGE list of the features you COULD add and then prioritizing them. Sounds like a heck of a project!

Check out Gordaen’s Knowledge, the blog, and the MR2 page.