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The Principles Behind Web Design, Part III: Minimalism In Action

I’m a big fan of martial arts flicks, especially the parts where the old wise teacher reveals some simple change that brings about a vast improvement in the fighting style of the protagonist. In several movies — though I couldn’t recall an example off hand right now, sadly — the simple change is best summarized as “take no unnecessary action”, or more simply, “move efficiently.”

If you were designing a martial art, you’d want every motion to mean something — no wasted effort. When you’re designing a webpage, you want the same end result. You want the end user to achieve the results they’re seeking with a minimum of motions — and, on the flip side of the coin, you want every motion they do make to achieve a goal. Not one of your goals, either — one of their goals.

Minimalism in Action
A classic example is the ‘squeeze page’, where you force a user to opt-in to your email listing before they’re allowed to test some tool or feature on your site. It’s a great idea from a business perspective, because the more people that are on your list, the more profitable the list becomes…but from a web design perspective, it’s crap. It forces the user to take actions without achieving a goal with the actions taken.

From a web design perspective, you’d be better off providing the surfer with a sample of what they’d get if they signed up (by clicking a button) — then asking them for their email address on the other side, once they knew that they actually wanted to opt in because the sample article was so good.

But that’s hardly the only example. There are also many websites out there that require the user to navigate through 2 or more pages to get to the part they want to interact with. It’s OK if, for example, you’re a band and someone has to navigate from ‘home’ to ‘music’ to a specific album to a specific song. But if you’re a college, for example, you’d better have a pretty obvious “Admissions” link on your homepage, and the site that it lands on better have a great big “Apply” button clearly visible above the fold. Anything that’s more than two clicks deep isn’t ever going to get eyes on it.

The ideal here is to remove as many barriers as possible between the user and whatever it is that the user wants to do. Obviously, it’s also a good idea to make it as easy as possible for them to do what you want them to do. 🙂

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