Simplicity is not always simple - designing for mobile
20 March 2012
At Madgex we are in the process of redesigning our second generation mobile web app. Translation from a job board desktop experience inevitably involves simplification, stripping things back to achieve a clutter free interface for a smaller screen. Designing for mobile devices requires a different mindset. You can't just shrink the experience to suit a small screen.
But simplicity sometimes just isn't that simple! Good simplicity always has clarity and is usable as well as simple. Elegant simple designs don't just happen by chance, they involve careful curation and are usually the result of difficult decisions. We are finding it best to think very carefully before judging something to be unnecessary and removing it from the interface. It is also important to differentiate between 'nice to haves' and critical business or user requirements.
I love that John Maeda (The Laws of Simplicity) describes simplicity as 'thoughtful reduction'. In the initial stages of our design process I found a good question to keep asking ourselves was; 'what can we remove to make this more focused and clear?' Most big decisions we are making are around what to include and not to include, which might involve taking out features and functionality that aren't crucial for the user to achieve what they need to achieve on the mobile website.
We are finding that it is usually necessary to simplify interactions so that they work not only on a small screen, but for multiple platforms and mobile devices. What works well on an iPhone might not work as well on an Android or Blackberry device. It's important to remember that a mobile interface is layered, or 'stacked', rather than just linear journeys - this can be valuable in making more of limited screen space and simplifying navigation.
A mobile web app for a job board is a task based experience and the key focus should always be on the primary tasks. The tasks in our case are searching and applying for jobs and the app should have simple, clear journeys to achieving these user goals. If we can simplify the journeys and at the same time remove some of the barriers that the mobile experience presents then even better. For example, there are still so many barriers to applying for a job on a mobile - so how can we make it easier to apply or do we provide alternatives?
We also found that it's possible to end up putting things back or adding functionality if research and testing indicates that they are necessary for a richer experience. For example, we removed browsing for jobs from our original concept, but our research indicated we should include it because a very significant number of users rely on this preferring it to keyword search.
The word simplicity can be used to imply beauty, purity and clarity. It may also be used with a negative connotation to denote insufficient complexity. When designing for mobile it’s important to get the balance right between simplicity and complexity to create the most fulfilling experience for the job seeker. As Leonardo da Vinci once stated - 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication'.