The Complexity of Simplicity in Web Design

The experience of a simple and brilliant web design is seamless. Users easily move from one piece of content to the next with confidence and comfort. While the end result is so recognizable, achieving a simple and complete user experience in web design is one of the toughest tasks faced by designers and developers.

The overabundance of things, ideas, and content over the past several years has led to a movement toward simplicity. Legal jargon is being traded in for layman’s terms. Writers now strive to deliver concise concepts rather than flowery prose. Homeowners trade in their roomy ranches for tiny, efficient houses. Even chefs may reduce their menu offerings to pure and simple flavor profiles.

People are overexposed to so much stuff today that the concept of simplicity stands out as elegant, refined, and enviable.

In web design, too, the concept of simplicity is enjoying a resurgence. People spend more time interacting with devices and online, so they increasingly crave an experience that is psychologically comfortable (intuitive) and visually calming or straightforward. Simplicity has never been so popular or so difficult to attain as it is today.

pocket-penguins-simplicity-web-design
Pockets Penguins – Simplicity in Web Design

Defining Simple Web Design

Think about a ballet dancer, a racecar driver, or a sushi chef. When you sit to watch a professional performance, everything appears fluid, understandable, and simple. If you were to try to re-create Swan Lake, the Indy 500, or your favorite hand roll, you would quickly see just how much work goes into the final product. Simple, user-friendly, and elegant web design is the same as any other professional performance.

A finished product that easily moves a user through the customer journey, creates an internal feeling of user confidence, and driving conversions requires hours of research, professional collaboration, and optimization. Are three CTAs on a page too many? Will an additional picture add to or distract from the purpose of the page? How will the color scheme make the average user feel when they arrive? These questions and dozens more drive the creation of a perfectly simple website.

Simple web design relies heavily on psychological understanding. Designers and developers who understand a user’s motivations, digital competence, and thought processes can create a web design that feels familiar, easy-to-use, and action-inspiring.

simplicity web design prepd pack homepage
The simplicity of the getprepd.com homepage

Elements of Simple Web Design

Simple web design isn’t boring, bare-bones, or unattractive. They take the best parts of a website and condense them into the most powerful and streamlined format possible. Whether creating an eCommerce site or an informational blog, design simplicity represents thoroughness, beauty, and understanding.

Some of the most important design considerations used to develop simplicity include:

Customer journey simplification. Every website exists to elicit some sort of response or action from readers. Understanding the customer/site visitor journey serves as the basis for every web design element. The first goal of website creation is to minimize or simplify the path from awareness to conversion as much as possible.

Back-end optimization. What appears in the user interface matters, but what happens behind the scenes affects every aspect of the user experience. Well-executed coding impacts SEO, loading speeds, site navigation and usability, and the accuracy of any real-time update/analytics software plug-ins.

Structural development. The navigational hierarchy and layout of each page will contribute to a site visitor’s first impressions. Grid, full-page navigation, minimalistic, split screen, and other layout configurations can all contribute to a simple web design. The key to a simple design is marrying the right layout with the right navigation styles, fonts, content, and interactions.

A note on minimalism and simplicity. Some people misguidedly equate simplicity with minimalism. In reality, minimalism is always simple, but simple web design is not always minimalistic. Minimalism encourages designers to choose a few design elements to emphasize. The movement values contrast and whitespace in an extreme way.

simplicity web design 3kvc homepage
The simplicity of the 3kvc.com homepage

Simple web design, on the other hand, only refers to a website’s ability to create a streamlined, comfortable, and attractive user experience. A graphic-heavy website, such as Pinterest, is simple but not minimalistic.

Attention to detail. The portion of a photo used in the design, the texture of an icon, and the contrast of font sizes among titles, headings, and copy all affect the finished product. For a website to achieve a successful and simple design, designers must consider how each decision factors into the usability and user experience of the finished product.

An understanding of mainstream practices. Websites should not feel like carbon copies of competitor sites, but industry best practices create a valuable level of consistency every designer should consider. Commonly used navigational menus, copy fonts, and site structures contribute to a level of user comfort and understanding from site to site.

Branding consistency. Some designers work hard to perfect a website’s homepage and neglect to use the same level of care on subsequent pages. While the homepage deserves a fair amount of work, the design theme, brand, and layout should look and feel complementary to the home page.

Leaving even one outdated logo on an old blog page, choosing the wrong color scheme, and failing to use consistent font types and sizes throughout the site can create a confusing site experience.

Interface recall. A simple web design is memorable. After one visit, a site visitor should remember the site’s form and function on subsequent visits. Interface recall is particularly important for sites that offer booking services, such as travel agencies, delivery services, and professional services.

Ultimately, simple websites offer familiarity and intuitiveness. They create a knowable platform brands can use to engage with site visitors and add increasing levels of creativity and innovation. Any brand can create a simple and effective website with these elements in place.

simplicity web design waaark homepage
The simplicity of the waaark homepage

Factors That Can Complicate the Search for Website Simplicity

Many design elements lend themselves well to simple web design. When designers start to combine elements in new, startling, or unintuitive ways, users may not have the same feeling toward the design.

Web designers and developers trying to make their mark in the world can complicate or oversimplify a website’s form and function. Some of the most common mistakes designers make when trying to achieve simplicity include:

Taking minimalism to the extreme. A minimalistic design should appear striking and memorable – not boring or oversimplified. Balance is the key to achieving both minimalism and simplicity in web design.

Forgetting the basics. While graphics, site layout, and structure contribute to a first impression, basic information availability can make or break the design. Strategic calls-to-action, complete contact information, and valuable instructions directly support the customer journey. A designer forgets these elements at the site’s peril.

Auto-play visuals. Eliminating control over content is the wrong kind of design simplification. Any automatically occurring and intrusive visual can detract from the user experience. Either keep visuals to a minimum or give users more control over the videos, displays, and other interactive content displayed.

Too much information consolidation. While simple web pages are easily digestible, they can also create navigation hurdles for the user. If the topic or discussion warrants a longer block of text or requires several images, focus on accessibility over simplicity. Avoid making users flip through slideshows or click to new landing pages for every subheading.

Website simplification is more about creating a straight line from point A (awareness) to point B (conversion) and less about making point A look nice.

Typographical errors. The evergreen content on a site should not contain any errors. Simplicity does not mean basic and thrown together at the last minute. An obvious error will distract users from the main purpose of a site and could undo all of the hard work a designer spends on graphics optimization and layout configuration.

Recognizing elegant simplicity in web design is easy. The easy flow, accessible information, and gentle nudges along the customer journey inspire user confidence in a brand. Creating elegant simplicity requires detailed knowledge of site visitor behaviors, brand messaging, and design best practices.

Improperly placed popup calls-to-action, offset page copy, or confusing navigational cues can all lead to a poor user experience and erase the notion of effective simplicity.

simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

The elements of simple web design will only grow more important as users crave personalization, intuitiveness, and accessibility. Simple, user-experience optimized web designs build brand credibility and encourage conversions. Use the core concepts of simplicity to move your own website projects closer to a place of simple elegance and user-friendliness over time.

You might also like to learn about the The 10 Golden Rules of Simple, Clean Design.

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