Simple Design Is Relative

Often simple is considered a good design, heuristic mega design that is simple and chances are that it will be usable. It is, in fact, the idea behind a popular responsive design paradigm mobile. First, if your design will be simple enough to work well on mobile, it must mean that it will translate well to the desktop, right?

Well, not necessarily to see why, let’s step back and talk about a concept of communication system. A communication system consists of a source and a destination connected by a communication channel. The size or capacity of that channel determines how much info can travel from source to destination people and devices for bidirectional communication systems. People send information to devices, for example, by typing and devices. Send info back to us, for instance, by displaying it on the screen. Think of the communication channel as if it were a water pipe. How much water travels through the pipe depends on how thick the pipe is. You can force more water than the pipe capacity. That means that if the pipe is very narrow, you’re going to spend a long time to send the same water volume that is done fast through a wide pipe. Same with people and devices. The screen is an information channel. How big it is dictates how much info you can sign at a time. If you’re sending too much information on a small screen, it will require users more effort and more time to absorb it, for example, because people will have to scroll more to read it.

We should design for the size of the communication channel. We’ve seen that on overstuff channel is not good, but sending too little information to a big channel can be bad as well, since we’re wasting communication capacity. When you’re taking a mobile design and simply sticking it up on the desktop like many one column layouts do, you’re wasting channel capacity. You’re creating more work for the desktop users who now have to patiently wait for the info to be delivered to them by teaspoon. So simple for mobile does not mean usable on desktop. A simple smartwatch optimized design will be ridiculous on a desktop. Simplicity is relative. ‘

What is simple for a device can be dumb or intricate for another.

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