A case for less design – especially at the beginning

If you’re familiar with Newton’s three laws of motion you understand that the bigger an object, the more energy is needed to change it’s direction. I’m no physicist but this is essentially Newton’s second law of motion. I believe that this is not only true in physics but it’s also true for product design.

Consider this, each time you add features to your product, the design, the code and the app grows exponentially more complicated. Each small addition, each change, each preference, feature, option, design element, each interdependency has a compound effect on the whole. Keep adding and you’ll end up with a very complicated product or app that might be very flexible but it will also be very unusable. Furthermore, the more energy that is applied to get your product moving in one direction, the more energy is also required to pivot, increasing the complexity of change. This is dangerous, especially at the beginning stages of your product because at this stage you’re essentially guessing. This is why concepts coined by Eric Ries like an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or MVO (Minimum Viable Offering) are so powerful. It’s important to avoid making your product complex, especially at the beginning because you’re going to learn what you should have done later and the sooner you can start applying what you learn the better off you’ll be. It’s much more difficult to change direction with a complex design than it is a simple one.

The way to combat complexity is with simplicity (or less). Less features, less design, smaller scope, less code and even a simpler, less-wordy problem statement. Easier said than done right? Let’s touch briefly on the problem statement of your app. I believe even this should be as simple as possible, think about the KISS principle or in other words, “Keep it short and simple”. Keeping this principle in mind will help you focus on the core of your users problems instead of tip-toeing around them with extensive feature lists and pie in the sky fluff.

Why less design

  • Less design is easier to manage
  • Less design is easier to change later
  • Less design is easier to look at
  • Less design decreases busy work – the more graphical elements you have to manage the busier your life will be
  • Less design reduces the complexity of the codebase
  • Less design means users can understand the purpose of your app faster
  • Less design means every element in your design receives more attention to detail and polish
  • Less design means you focus on beautiful typography – and who doesn’t like beautiful typography?
  • Less design decreases design debt – less to change and update later
  • Less design decreases technical debt and maintenance cost – lowering the cost of change later which means you can adapt to changing needs easier and faster.
  • Less design means less complexity in the experience
  • Less design means more delight – simple is beautiful
  • Less design is a result of focusing on your purpose
  • Less design is a result of building products that do less, intentionally

Always try to do more with less in design. Doing so will set up your design for success as well as your users and your product will be leaner, faster and healthier as a result.

I hope you enjoyed this article. I’m currently writing a book on iOS app design that will teach you the essentials of design for iOS and how you can apply them to create better and more usable apps. You can learn more about the book by signing up for my newsletter. As a bonus for signing up I’ll send you an 11 page iOS App Design Kit with tools to help you create your next iOS app.