The Importance of Simplicity in User Interface (UI) Design

And why we all dread talking to the IT guy.

We’ve all had the experience of having a problem with our computer but hesitating to call IT. We want the computer to work, but we don’t really want the explanation of why it isn’t.

And that’s the thing; we use incredibly complex applications every day – search, online stores, and social media to name a few – and we expect them to work; we don’t really care how it happens.

When you type a query into Google search, you probably don’t think about the web crawling, indexing, and parsing that was needed to produce the results. And though you sometimes try different search strings to refine the results, nobody trained you to do that. On Amazon you can find, order and have delivered to your door virtually anything you want, with a few clicks of your mouse. And on Facebook, you easily post pictures and connect with friends around the world…from any device, anytime and from anywhere.

What is common to these applications is that the complexity of the application has been moved to the backend so the UI is simple and intuitive. Which is the number one rule of good UI design:

Put the complexity in the backend so it doesn’t appear in the User Interface.
No training required

Simple UI design means that anyone can have access to very sophisticated applications. When applications are well designed, there is no price for access. You may have to pay for the application, but you don’t have to spend time learning how to use it. Google has given everyone access to unbelievable amounts of information, Amazon to an amazing number of products, and Facebook to virtually everyone on the Internet.

Each of these applications have a huge number of user because they are very useful, and a learning curve is not a barrier to use; the complexity has been moved to the backend, significantly increasing the accessibility and value of the application. Dis-aggregation has taken place between what computers do and how we tell them to do it. In the past, the user, or someone helping them, had to be much closer to the actual workings of the application. Today, the functionality of applications has been almost totally removed from how they do it.

I’ll have my usual please

And though what can be done online continues to rapidly grow in complexity, accessing it need not. Well-designed applications don’t require a new or different UI when the complexity of the application increases. Imagine if you had to search differently whenever new information was available on the Internet, Amazon’s UI changed because they started selling a new product, or Facebook was harder to use because more people joined the network.

As the functionality increases we expect the same interface because the complexity is on the backend. As long as I can remember, when I had a question for Google, I typed it into the search bar and I got a list of responses; this has stayed largely the same over the years despite the possible results having grown exponentially.

But I’m on to something new…

When new applications become available, it is common for the focus to be on the features and functionality and not the usability. As an example, powerful new business intelligence (BI) applications are starting to be available for a wide range of uses, and the ease of use varies just as widely.

But if BI is going to be a tool that is accessible by a large number of people, like other applications, it must push the complexity to the backend so it doesn’t appear in the User Interface. If you are looking for that kind of BI solution, one that has transformed data extraction, machine learning, and natural language processing into simply asking a question, we’d like to hear from you.

Don’s 14+ years of experience in sales and distribution management contributes to Einsights sales and marketing initiatives. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago, an MS in Engineering from Stanford University, and an AB in Applied Mathematics from UC Berkeley.

Don is currently the Senior Vice President of Analytics at Dimension Data, a $6B global IT provider, where he is responsible for public cloud customer acquisition, retention and usage.

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