If you're a designer and working with others, you know that the work doesn't stop at the design. Something that has been designed needs to be built. You might even build it yourself, or do part of the work and hand it off to someone else. Regardless, implementation is a necessary step.
Simple design helps there, too. There are always exceptions, but simple designs tend to be easier to build, especially when you follow the grain of the web. "Simple" design isn't just about visual design. It's also about how much variety you've introduced to the design. How many complicated CSS declarations your design is going to need. How much testing developers will have to do to make sure it works across different browsers and devices.
Conversion Rate Experts, who make a living by helping other companies make a lot of money, prefer simple design because it means they can experiment to find the best design even easier. Here they advise you focus on function, instead of beauty.
Some people ask why they shouldn't optimize for function and aesthetics. Even if their visitors are perfectly happy with the current appearance of the website, what's the harm in being beautiful regardless? It's like asking “What's the harm in giving Usain Bolt an egg and spoon to carry while he runs?” They don't realize that beauty, like an egg and spoon, tends to slow progress to a crawl.
They go on to explain that simpler websites are not only visually simpler, but simpler to maintain. This is important for any company that needs to update their website after the first time they put it live. Which is most of them.
Imagine if your site were as easy to edit as Wikipedia ... Typical web marketers could edit a Wikipedia page in one minute, but would take at least a day to make a similar change to their own site ... Much of that time difference is because their own site is more complicated for aesthetic reasons: Fonts are substituted, decorative images are included, layouts are complicated, and ornamental graphics are included. The technical burden soon becomes immense: changes must be checked on multiple devices running multiple browsers on multiple operating systems; plug-ins conflict; fonts don't render
It seems there's a rat race among developers, especially in the front-end world, to make the web more cutting edge - more complicated. There's the feeling that classic technologies are boring, even though we know they work. A feeling that flashy effects are more fun, even though they might take twice as long to build. Do our users think the same way? Jonas Downey doesn't think so:
Today, a basic HTML/CSS site seems almost passé. But why? Is it because our new tools are so significantly better, or because we've gone overboard complicating simple things? As builders, we like tools and tech because they're interesting and new, and we enjoy mastering them. But when you think about the people we're building for, the reality is usually the opposite. They need simple designs, clear writing, less tech, and fewer abstractions. They want to get [the job done], not fuss around with website stuff. Remember when the web was damn simple? It still can be. It's up to us to make it that way.
Simple design helps with code implementation, but it can also help before a line of code is written. Cap Watkins, for whom boring design is a good thing, tells us that simplicity leads to an easier time for the designer.
The boring designer realizes that the glory isn't in putting their personal stamp on everything they touch. In fact, most of the time, it's about leaving no trace of themselves. The boring designer loves consistency. The boring designer loves a style guide. They love not having to worry about choosing the wrong blue or accidentally introducing a new pattern.
What if you're not a designer for a large company with hundreds of people, but a solo designer, working for clients or even your own website? I asked Brian Lovin about his personal website, and whether he had a philsophy behind its simplicity. Here, simple design helps him to add MORE features to his website, and maintain them. Can you say that about complicated design, if you're the only person working on a project?
Not really a philosophy. I just like the way it looks, and the simple language makes it easier to maintain/update over time. Especially when you factor in things like dark mode, having a smaller surface area for component types and styles just makes things easier. I'm trying to keep this thing easy and fast to update so that I stay motivated to keep working on it over time.
Marco Arment brought us the podcast app Overcast, as well as being part of the small team that created Tumblr. He feels strongly about things being simple to implement. Adding complexity to a design - or more practically, not pruning it back - adds layers and layers of complexity to the implementation as well.
The best web designs aren't huge, pixel-perfect monstrosities based on some insane PSD designed by someone who doesn't know what implementation will require. They're simple, flowing, and resilient. They won't break if the content-length changes and the right column is longer than the left. They won't break when someone over age 40 views the site and magnifies the text to 150% because they can't read your trendy 11px Verdana. And they certainly won't break if IE slips a few pixels into the margin somewhere. Instead of wasting hours upon hours to hammer out every little browser difference in an overly complex design, just design it to accommodate browser differences in the first place.
If you've got ease-of-design, and ease-of-implementation, you'll naturally have an easier time overall. This is why, as Frank Chimero says, experienced designers aim for simple:
Why does all of this matter? Most experienced designers want concision—clear, robust, consistent, elegant systems that avoid redundancy. Concise designs are smoother to implement, faster to render, quicker to understand, and easier to hand-off and maintain.
The complex toolchains and processes used for modern websites, which seem to grow and change every year, are scary. They take a long time to learn, and you can't ever stop unless you fall behind. I don't deny that they're necessary in some cases. Many web apps are so complicated that the tools probably need to be complicated to match. But complexity doesn't have to be necessary for everyone.
Designers can, as Frank says, design for an easier implementation. I can see why this might be an alien thought: If we've got the ability to build big, complex, impressive designs, why not aim for that? But constraints encourage creativity, as you hopefully know. One more constraint - "It should be simple to build" - is not going to do any harm. As I hope I'm proving, it's likely to help.
The new methods [of front-end development] were invented to manage a level of complexity that is completely foreign to me and my work. It was easy to back away from most of this new stuff when I realized I have alternate ways of managing complexity. Instead of changing my tools or workflow, I change my design. It's like designing a house so it's easy to build, instead of setting up cranes typically used for skyscrapers.
Maciej Cegłowski, who created and maintains successful internet business Pinboard by himself, is a firm believer in simplicity. He's got some advice for other would-be website builders:
If complex, difficult-to-build design is one end of a spectrum, what about the other end? What about design so simple that it's barely more than raw HTML? It's easy to believe that you should avoid both extremes, and land somewhere in the middle. Staying closer to the simple extreme, however, is often enough, especially when it comes to implementation. Frank Chimero tells us that "design" can be as little as "a couple lines of CSS":
Over the last few years, I've found myself repeatedly making a comment about websites: you can design a blog that's superior to most with a couple lines of CSS.
This approach doesn't just apply to hobbyist bloggers, though it certainly helps them a lot. It also helps Frank run a successful design agency. With a few technical skills, that you could probably pick up in a weekend, you can create designs that are easy to implement and are enough for business success.
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I wrote down the technical requirements of my web design practice. It's not a long list: Simple, responsive layout. Web fonts and nicely set text. Performant, scalable images.