An explosion of communication and choice in recent decades has created the global climate of information overload that we are only now beginning to find ways to properly navigate. The rise of the iPhone app and the price comparison website shows the information economy at work and there is growing recognition of the value of designing access to information. But what took us so long?
In our personal areas of interest choice can seem miraculous: I can get my favourite version of my favourite song in less than 60 seconds; we can have customised trainers designed in-store; you can get your flat white-half-caff-soy-frappe-latte-cino just the way you like it in a coffee shop anywhere in the world (a distant time it was when coffee was purchased in only one of two states: black or white). But in general, relentless second-by-second decision-making is required to navigate a deep sea of visual noise. Negotiating our choices can lead to unprecedented fatigue, confusion, stress – and disinterest. As expectations rise, consumers are increasingly losing their patience. How do we solve this problem?
The solution is simple: simplicity.
Take an apple: the result of 100 million years of evolution, it is a matchless ‘product’, faultless in its simplicity and physical economy. Nothing manmade quite matches this, although some manufacturers at least aim for such simplicity. The other apple – Apple – demonstrated genuinely ‘intelligent design’ with the iPod and iPhone. Designer Jonathan Ive’s gift for interface simplicity is the keystone of Apple’s success.
Google has also enjoyed spectacular success helping consumers to navigate information effectively in ways that their competitors singularly failed to do, by making a complex and messy process simple.
It is difficult to see future consumers wanting less choice or less information – so products and services designed with ‘simple’ access to complexity will be the ones that succeed. Good design is the underrated tool that can apply the lessons of evolution and principles of simplicity to create accessible new products and services.
Simple looks easy, but achieving ‘simple’ can be hard. The extra effort involved can be time-consuming and seem costly in the short term, but is worth much more than that effort in the long run. Simple is what good designers do for a living.