Sometimes Less Equals More

I’ve recently been working on a web based service with Kyle Gawley and Chris Murphy. It’s been designed, and developed, from the ground up to be simple. Recently Chris has shown off a recent iteration of our work to highlight how simplicity can improve a project.

So far feedback has been very positive with the project. This has helped to highlight that, sometimes, creating something with less choice can create something of greater value.

A Bit of Background

The phrase “spoilt for choice” relates very well to what I’m talking about – sometimes being given too much choice makes it hard for a person to actually decide what they want. It’s harder to make a decision from a list of fifty items than it is to make a decision from a list of five.

This applies in general terms across many things in life. An example used in our course is jam. It discusses a study by Sheena Iyengar where a table was set up outside of a store, and a selection of either six or twenty four jams available.

Prior to this study the commonly held believe was that more choice was better. The results from the study proved otherwise. It turns out that by giving people too much choice it causes them to freeze, and often times they will not make a choice at all.

Joseph Putnam provides an example of this in a recent article published over on the @KISSmetrics Marketing Blog. His relates to an example of a gelato shop. The store had over 100 flavours available, which appealed to him when he saw this.

Things changed, however, once he had to decide which flavour he would like. He was overwhelmed. He froze. Then he left. This might seem odd, but single instances of things like this tend to by symptomatic of a large issue.

What’s Food got to do with Digital?

The examples of food above can be applied to a great many things in life. In Joseph’s case he used the example of gelato, and also Sheena Iyengar’s study, and applied them to the world of digital communication and sharing. It’s something I’ve unknowingly applied to my own work.

In my own site I’ve stipped away a lot of aspects of my site. Some things, such as social media sharing buttons, have simply never been an element of my site. These are choices I have made based on my personal frustration with such things.

Had I delved a little deeper into my decisions, and done a little research, I would have seen how there is this kind of research that supplements my personal thoughts, and provides a more substantial argument for why I make the decisions I do.

Applying this to the Digital World

There are a number of ways in which this knowledge can be taken and used in a digital world. The most important thing to do is think about why something is needed in the site. If you can’t come up with a solid reason to use it, don’t.

An example with my own site would be social media sharing buttons. I could have included them, it makes it easier for people to share things. My audience, however, are typically intelligent enough to share content directly on the medium of their choice.

By removing that option I also force people that do want to share my content to do so in their own words. I much prefer this. Many social media sharing buttons provide default content, which many people will use instead of their own words. That feels artificial to me.

This can be applied more broadly to content online however. In email marketing it could be a case of removing visual clutter from what you send to your subscribers. Maybe it could be focusing on five awesome products, instead of ten less great ones.

In a web site design it could be to simplify what you show on the site. Removing visual clutter might help visitors focus more on what is there, shifting their focus onto the content that is presented, rather than the presentation which happens to contain some content.


Kyle and myself have been applying this to our project, taking a look at what already exists and seeing both what it does well and what it does poorly. Simply by removing the poorer aspects of a different service, we can improve. But it is only one facet of what we are doing.

It isn’t enough, for Kyle or myself, to produce a less bad version of something. We are both focused on providing a superior product, one that improves the area we are working in, and pushes both our design and development skills beyond our current limits.

This, to me, should be the goal of everyone who works in any form of production, be it digital, print, cinema, or manufacturing. Don’t add clutter just for the sake of it. Have a reason for the things you add. Care about your work.