When your design is complex

On April 10, 2013

When users interact with a product having complex design, here is what happens:

They feel confused
When we give users too many options, or don't give any directions at all, they get confused. They fail to find a way to accomplish their goals with your product.

They feel dumb
When they can't figure out how to use your product, they blame themselves for their lack of knowledge. They feel incompetent to use such products, and this makes them think they're dumb.

They feel scared to use it again
When they can't figure out your product, it scares them to use it again. They'd rather try some another product, than waste their time in using yours.

They believe the product isn't made for them
A complex design drives the users away. The users feel the product isn't designed for them at all, and they aren't the intended users for the product. Perhaps they should find something that matches their intellectual level.

How does that affect you as a creator, if you create such products?

For that, we've to see how people react after using such products. When users come across a complicated product:

They give up easily
When users cannot figure out how to accomplish their goals with your product, they give up. They don't bother spending their time in learning how your product works. And they stop using your product.

They never return again
Once they are disappointed by your service, they are least likely to check your future products and come back again. They already wasted their time and money in your product once. Why should they waste it any more?

They look for other solutions
When your product doesn't meet their needs, they look for other suitable solutions. They know there are many products out there, and someone will provide them simpler solution compared to yours. Once they find it, they'll stick with it for long time, unless they need something new altogether.

They share their experience with others
Users share their good and bad experience. If they feel cheated with your service, they'll warn others. If they find a better solution than yours, they'll recommend that to others. In both cases, you will lose.

In short, we lose our users when our design is complicated. That's why, as creators, we can't afford this complexity in our products. 

But we've already heard so many times, "Make it as simple as possible". We know how to make things simple, right? Then why do our products end up being so complicated?

We don't intentionally make our products complicated. Complexity arises when we try to accomplish too many things at once. It's like scoring 10 goals in one shot, which is simply impossible to do, and equally ridiculous to even try.

Our products become complicated because:

We add too many features
In your excitement to create a great product, you add several features thinking that it makes your product more useful. But remember that, when you give too many features, users feel overwhelmed and don't know what to do. It only confuses them and they struggle to decide what exactly to do with your product.

We add too many options
The number of features and options you can show together, is limited by the display area of the device. Most complexities arise from having too many options in a single screen. If you must include every option, make sure that you group them in small chunks of related options.

We try to satisfy too many users
You can't satisfy every type of user. Why? Because every user has a unique taste and personality. You can't satisfy one type without annoying the other. If you go for simplicity, you annoy the power users. If you go for powerful features, you annoy the simple users. Pick one type, and build for them.

We don't have a concrete purpose for our product
Complexities arise because you don't have a clear picture of your product. You want to build something useful, but aren't sure what exactly it is. So you try to fit everything in one product. Don't do that. First identify the purpose of your product, and then take actions accordingly.

We listen to too many ideas from too many people
Another possible reason is you ask too many people for ideas, and try to address all their issues. If you apply those ideas and solve all such issues, you'll end up building a product that has everything, but which is targeted towards no user in particular. Take ideas from others, but make sure it doesn't alter your vision for your product.

Designing doesn't need to be complex. People always move towards solutions that make their jobs easier and simple. To win your users, get rid of this complexity and take steps towards making your products simple.

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