Less is More Essays
February 19, 2008 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble explaining the "less is more" philosophy in web application design. What are the most persuasive essays on the subject which I could refer people to?

What are the best blog posts, essays, etc to read for someone not familiar with the concept that having less features actually makes a better product sometimes.
posted by GregX3 to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Edward Tufte writes about what he calls the "data-ink ratio" in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. This page talks about the concept in relation to web design.
posted by djb at 5:23 PM on February 19, 2008

37 Signals have lots of good articles on this subject
posted by mattoxic at 5:40 PM on February 19, 2008

Jakob Nielsen
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:45 PM on February 19, 2008

Wouldn't it be more persuasive to have some really bad web examples that illustrate your point? Almost any mom 'n pop real estate website, for instance, would be a shining example of what not to do-- multicolored print, scrolling text going up, down, sideways and any other way they can figure out, bad pictures, poor linkage, horrifying music you can't turn off, etc. etc. etc. "A picture is worth a thousand words". Maybe it is hard to explain good design, but people generally know bad design when they see it.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:47 PM on February 19, 2008

Response by poster: mattoxic, I looked at the 37signals blog, but they have 1000s of articles. Which ones are about this topic?
posted by GregX3 at 5:51 PM on February 19, 2008

Getting Real by 37 signals is a good start. Buy the book or read it free online.
posted by kaefer at 5:59 PM on February 19, 2008

Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability is a great book that breaks down web usability into easy to understand chunks of information.

It gives solid examples of how people use websites backed up by the author's years of experience conducting usability tests and even explains how you can conduct your own if you can't afford to hire a professional.

Check out a sample chapter.

It's also a pretty short book, clocking in at 216 pages, this is something you could read in an evening or less.

I know this isn't an essay, but it will give you concrete examples on how web pages are actually used, which can often be very far off from how we web application programmers imagine they will/design them to be used.
posted by Stilus at 6:36 PM on February 19, 2008

I've written long ones. My best is short, and reproduced in full here...


The Web is not Walden Pond… and attempts to make it so through increasingly stark simplicity are well-intentioned, but badly aimed.

Simplicity often belies the truth. The truth if the web is that it is the most mind-boggling array of unstructured information that has ever been. And it’s growing exponentially, and it will not stop. It is increasingly the de facto body of reference for all of us. It will inexorably be the sum total of explicit knowledge on our planet. How do you simplify that? By making it “…as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

As simple as possible…

Consider the works of Matisse and Picasso. Not your style? Try Keith Haring. Simplicity is alluring. A line-drawing can evoke far more than it actually reveals, by distilling the subject to its most essential form. It’s not coincidental that great art illustrates this… there is more than a little art to conveying the very essence of something.

…but not simpler.

Design — be it product design or interface design — can be simplified to the extent that it is no longer meaningful, or useful. Simple can be obscure. Simple doesn’t scale. Simplicity does not make a very good design goal. Instead, simplicity is most effective as a method to achieve a different design goal… clarity.
posted by deCadmus at 6:38 PM on February 19, 2008

Another persuasive argument is understanding who your audience is. I know a ton of websites and applications that are so intent upon having everything under the sun lumped into them. While I can understand their desire for comprehensiveness, I think that most times it only leads to frustrated users. Is your application geared towards experienced users who desire more features at the expense of ease of use? Are you targeting people who desire to have a clean, easy to use interface? As an app developer, these questions are VERY important to answer. Hillman Curtis, a new media designer, talks a lot about these ideas. Part of his design process includes justifying elements of his company's designs; Is it necessary? Is there a cleaner, more elegant way of designing this? Companies like Apple are a prime example of this concept. Like them or not, they consider usability and design as an integral part of their development process. These days, with increasing competition in every area of the web, one could easily argue that these ideas are of great importance to developers everywhere. In fact, I'm in the process right now of developing a site that I feel can easily overtake the leading site in my niche just by pure usability alone. I've come to these conclusions based on speaking with everyday users of my competition and incorporating their criticisms into my design process. Users are growing more and more weary of having to work to get the information or results they need, and one of the hallmarks of bad design is not knowing where or how to find what you need on a site. In my opinion, the future will be given to those who can give users what they need in the most efficient way possible. In other words, design is no longer an afterthought, it literally will make or break your business.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 6:51 PM on February 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips everyone. I went ahead and made a del.icio.us tag "lesssoftware" to denote all of these.
posted by GregX3 at 7:54 PM on February 19, 2008

Greg, their Signal vs. Noise blog is worth a read if you have a few hours. I think you can subscribe. Their whole ethos is less is more.
posted by mattoxic at 10:18 PM on February 19, 2008

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