Clear

If something is clear, it's easy to understand. Clarity means a person knows which button to tap next. It means that the words they read don't cause any confusion. Clarity can help a person figure out what a company does quickly. It's what all of your designs should try to have. As Kate Moran tells us:

"This is too easy to understand" said no one ever

"Easy to understand" has always been successful, and always will be. No-one wants something to be difficult to understand. Of course, if we've taken the time to understand something that is complicated, we probably don't realise how much work we have to do to help others understand it more quickly. Maybe this is why it's so easy to make something that confuses people: We can't see how confusing it is.

In his article about "boring UX", Ryan Bigge lays out some reasons that designs might not be clear:

Boring user experience is clear and straightforward content, design, and code that solves key pain points. No surprise. No delight. It's the non-design of IA Writer or the simple poetry of plain language. Unboring is an error message that requires a PhD to unpack or Microsoft Word's everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach to software ... When boring design is missing, it usually means someone ignored a checklist, or a stakeholder was bamboozled by a smooth-talking parallax huckster.

There are other reasons. Simple and clear design is great, but humans tend to believe that if something is simple, it must not have been difficult to create. This causes tension in designer/stakeholder relationships. If you spent eight weeks working on a problem, turning up with a few sentences of copy might get a bad reaction. Even if it solves the problem perfectly. This can lead designers to want to show that they've done a lot of hard work.

As Ryan suggests, it takes courage to be simple.

I collect screengrabs of good (and bad) examples of digital design. Whenever I see something that catches my eye, I tuck it away for later. When I revisited those grabs for this essay, I realized that most of my hall of shame examples occurred because someone didn't trust themselves to be straightforward.

At the other end of the spectrum from individual designers, though, are the large international companies that have realised how useful clarity is, as John Saito tells us. If you spend hours being clever with copy on your English-language website, you have to then spend hours being clever for each of your other localised websites.

In general, the language used by large global brands tends to be more straightforward and conventional, because it's a safer choice for global audiences. Straightforward language is easier to localize and less likely to feel alienating.

This is not a problem unique to design. When movie scripts full of jokes and cultural references are translated into other languages, those jokes need to be localised. This is a lot harder than a literal translation, because often the jokes don't translate well. If you avoid being "clever" with your design, you avoid confusion.

Jonas Downey at Basecamp told me that they stick to clarity as a principle at a company-wide level. It's a positive feedback loop: The more simple your design, the less you need to explain to your user, and the more simple your design can be.

Always choosing clarity over being slick or fancy. Internally we call this "Fisher Price" design. We aim to make the UI totally obvious and self explanatory, by keeping individual screens simple, showing only one focused thing at a time, and so on. Good product design eliminates the need for an instruction manual!

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