Achieving Simplicity Beyond Complexity in Design

Ben Bate By Ben Bate  |  Feb. 14, 2018

Taking the complex and developing a system that appears simple, without reducing the core functionality of the site.

Simplicity Beyond Complexity is essentially the point at which the complications of a product, and its code, become obscured to the end user.

It’s a design process different to simplicity, in that it does not look to simplify the core product. Rather than reducing functionality and feature sets, it looks to ways of making the product simpler and easier to use which do not include stripping back elements of the product itself.

It’s a more complicated and difficult task than simplifying design and product. It requires much greater levels of design thinking, problem solving, and user experience considerations. However, the results are often impactful in positive ways to both the user base and company itself.

Achieving simplicity beyond complexity is about taking the complex and developing new user interface solutions to maintain and even extend functionality, all while making it much simpler to use for the end user.

The core of the product itself could not be simplified without negative consequences

In its most simple form, this method of design thinking accounts for the solution that saw FaceID replace TouchID, or GitHub release a desktop application. They realised that the future of their products and companies relied on adding more complexity. The core of the product itself could not be simplified without negative consequences for both users and company growth. So they had to look for solutions to aid the user in making best use of the complexities, and being able to understand them through good design and user experience.

There are two examples relating to this form of design thinking. The first of which is where a company has arrived at a point where complexity is at an all time high, and future growth and usability requires a long-term plan to achieve simplicity beyond this. The other example is a design which has successfully achieved this, is enjoying the rewards of its hard work, and has a foundation upon which to grow their product in the future.

 

1. Complexity Working Towards Simplicity: Amazon

Amazon is notorious for the complexity of its website. It’s full-width and crammed with images, products, cards, and confusing grid layouts. With one of the up and coming design teams in the technology industry, Amazon is focused on making their site easier to use, and simplifying the experience for the end user.

As it stands, there are notable issues not just around the design, but around the functionality too. Delivery costs are one of these components that need to be made more clear and consistent to users. On a design front, there is simply so much going on from a visual standpoint that it can seem overwhelming.

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Aspects such as product options and sizings are often repetitive and utterly confusing. Items like product type thumbnails are small and hard to see, with little done to make an obvious indication as to which are unavailable.

It’s the complexity of Amazon which makes it so popular

It’s the complexity of Amazon which makes it so popular: the ability to order almost anything, any color, any type, and have it to your door within hours. But as they continue to expand with services like Prime, Video, Music, Alexa, Audible, and others, there has to be a platform upon which these can be integrated without getting lost and further complicating user experience. By assembling a talented product team, they are looking at ways to simplify their product without sacrificing any functionality. It’s an extremely difficult task, particularly as new services and features are being shipped all the time. It explains why we’ve seen only minor changes to the site’s design in the last few years, and even decades. Much of the simplicity for users at this moment in time is in the familiarity they have built up with the site. It’s changed little since its inception in terms of core functionality, and this presents further complications for the product teams when seeking to simplify elements of the design.

Over time, Amazon will make tweaks which will bring the entire website into a more cohesive state. It will find solutions to current user experience issues, and introduce more positive interactions like the 1-Click checkout which enables users to avoid the time-consuming checkout process.

 

2. Simplicity Beyond Complexity: Google Services

Google has successfully migrated most of its core product line to achieve simplicity beyond complexity. It’s employed a consistent design system across products in the form of Material Design. This has achieved consistency and ease of use across products, websites, and apps.

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A Google account maintains coordination between everything from Photos and Docs, to Drive and Gmail. The integration and consistency between each has brought it much closer to a state of cohesiveness. The products feel more like a suite of tools, as opposed to separate entities.

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With Google’s venture into mobile software and computer hardware, the experience becomes even simpler while retaining and building upon existing functionality. From Android to Chrome OS, everything is tied to a single account. As a company they offer a suite of services and tools which cover almost every need from a personal standpoint. In doing so, they have done away with one of the primary complexities of modern computing, which is fragmentation of services. When you are required to use a different company’s software, hardware, or service for each requirement, you often lose the ability for those to interact seamlessly with each other. Companies, by their very competitive nature deter this for obvious reasons, often opting to produce their own sub-optimal equivalents—notable examples include Bing and iCloud. This isn’t to mention the issues around pricing, managing accounts and passwords, and switching between different user interfaces and compatibilities.

 

Finding Design Solutions

As designers work on products, it’s important to always seek the solution beyond complexity. Attempt not to apply reductionist techniques where the functionality is beneficial to the end user. It’s often more difficult to find these solutions and implement them, but continuing to do so as a design direction will equate to a better, more expansive, and more capable product over time.