Simple Still Works

Web guru Jakob Nielsen has for decades studied and analyzed how users behave online. He’s a strong advocate for the power of simplicity, which is how I first discovered his work.

Visit his website, useit.com, and you'll gain instant insight into his perspective. Did you notice the Spartan look, layout and structure?

No photos. No graphics. No icons. No videos. No flipping, rotating or blinking images. No quirky fonts.

Nielsen's website and many of his articles, such as Low-End Media for User Empowerment, make a strong case in favor of simple online media strategies. Easy, accessible (e.g., low-end) media continue to remain popular with users, he contends.

Why? When users have more control over their online experience, it reduces frustrations and increases satisfaction. Unfussy copy and clear images make three pivotal online functions easier:

Reading – Clear text and images allow users to scan content in a non-linear, self-guided fashion. They can focus on information they want, spend as much or as little time as they desire, and ignore irrelevant elements.

Finding relevant content – Low-end media have on average a higher percentage of information-rich content, and this content is easier to find, scan, grasp, use, forward, etc.

Authoring – The more basic the media, the more likely it is that business blog, website and intranet content can and will be produced by those who actually know the material.

Your own experiences probably verify this logic. Low-end media make it easier to design, create, access, use and refresh content. Plus, simple media are more stable and less costly to develop, troubleshoot, update and maintain.

In contrast, high-end or “fat” media tend to be linear, with a higher percentage of what Nielsen characterizes as nonessential, showoff content. This forces users to sit through boring or irrelevant sequences in order to reach information they seek.

High-end media mean content is created or shaped by technical experts, not the content experts. As a result, the content suffers, because there are more layers between the information and the author.

High-end media by definition cost significantly more than low-end media. These increased costs persist throughout every stage of a site's lifecycle, from design and development to day-to-day maintenance.

Focusing on function instead of flash isn't particularly cool. Nielsen's unwavering commitment to clarity and ease of use is a refreshing reminder.

Simple still works.

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