Reduce clutter and focus on the things that matter

Photo by Levi Price on Unsplash

We live in the world where brands are trying to get a fraction of our attention. We are often bombarded by adverts, pop ups, cookie notifications, offers and then everything outside of online world like kids and family problems. This is creating noise, and in-turn more and confusion.

Making is a decision is easy right, it’s black or white, yes or no, right? No, most of the time a decision is determined on the context in which people make a decision. Is the person looking at the options got the authority to buy the product, how many options are available, how are those options presented, how knowledgeable and experienced is that person with decision making. All of these influences and if’s can and will impact the final ‘tap’.

As designers of these websites, apps and other digital media systems we’ve got the ability to improve and assist in helping users making that decision easier. It’s becoming a ‘frictionless’ journey or at least moving closer towards to it. First let’s look at decisions, starting with a visual of lots of doughnuts.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


When developing our products we often think more is better. That by cramming our products full of features that your competitors don’t have will mean they will choose you. However choice can easily overwhelm users, one of the best examples of this is the jam jar test.

In 2000, Dr. Sheena S. Iyengar and Dr. Mark R. Lepper set up a tasting booth at Draeger’s Market in Menlo Park, California. Hundreds of people walked past the booth each day. One weekend, they put out a selection of twenty-four varieties of jams; on another they set out six. The wider selection performed badly. Only 2% of passersby bought the jam. When there were fewer options, 12% of passersby purchased the jam.

Iyengar and Lepper repeated similar experiments in a number of settings, and found that people were more likely to make a purchase when given a handful of choices than when they were overwhelmed with dozens of options.

They also found that people who were given a limited choice were more satisfied with their selection than those who’d been given more options.

Offering people a choice gives them a sense of control, and people prefer some choice to no choice. But when that choice exceeds a handful of options it becomes a burden, especially when the options are similar.

You can see something similar at work in people’s attitudes toward technology. Most people are anxious when faced with a massive array of options and buttons. Every time they pick up a gadget, there’s a nagging sense that they don’t fully understand it, and that a slip of a finger could easily make things go wrong. People can easily distrust choice.

When you’re next looking at a long feature list, a webpage with dozens of links, or a computer menu that’s full of choices, it’s worth remembering how easily this choice can undermine your design.

Users are happier when their choices are limited.

How do people decide?

People use a mixture of strategies to simplify the decision-making process. Two common strategies are:

Elimination — When employing an elimination strategy, people use some criteria for the purpose of ruling out, or eliminating, options from the set of options under consideration, with the goal of reducing the size of the choice set and making a choice more manageable. An elimination strategy is a useful means of pruning down the number of options to a set a person can reasonably scrutinise in detail, thus facilitating a choice.

Satisfying — When people adopt a satisfying strategy, once they find the first option that meets some predefined criterion or set of criteria, they stop considering new options. Since a decision based on satisfying depends on the order in which people consider options, a different ordering of the options may yield a different decision outcome.

Once a person commits to something then they tend to then take on the post-purchase rationalisation cognitive bias which is when they justify why they went for A over B by downplaying the faults of A. There is also an element of seeking the advantages of A and amplifying them but not looking for the same in B. Put it this way, if you booked a £4,000 holiday because it could be £4,500 tomorrow you tend to focus on the fact you may have saved £500 but really you spent £4,000 more than you did before-hand.

Photo by Kevin Rajaram on Unsplash


Our devices are constantly buzzing for attention demanding our attention. We have little control over when they happen, and dealing with them can feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole. They feel stressful, not simple. Sadly, the constant interruptions and updates have an addictive quality. Our devices are alive, and maybe the next alert is important. Replacing distractions with simplicity is an important mission.

User interfaces are full of irritating distractions. These can turn even simple tasks, such a reading a body of text, into a chore.

Reducing links

Links within an article may seem like helpful extras, but each link says, “Why not stop what you’re doing and look at this instead?” They break into the user’s consciousness and undermine her concentration.

Researcher Erping Zhu has found that increasing the number of hyperlinks within a document lowers readers’ comprehension — even if the reader doesn’t follow the link.

The right column of a page is often set aside for even more distracting links, ads, or “related content”. This clutter is usually brightly coloured and animated to draw the user’s attention away from the main focus of the page.

When designing products always think what is the next logical step. For example if you have a right column at the top of the page saying “further reading” you’d think why would I want further reading suggestions, I haven’t read the article I came here to see! If your worried users won’t get to the bottom of the article then that’s what needs fixing.

The difference between humans and code

Human beings don’t interrupt each other as jarringly as apps. If I have a message for you but I can see that you’re busy, then I’ll wait until you take a break. If the message is really important and your task is not, then I’ll interrupt. Humans make social judgements about when to interrupt. We recognise the value of focus.

Apps however don’t distinguish by default between critical updates and unimportant ones. Yet to you and me, the distinction is obvious. The reason, of course, is that the app owners are not concerned with our peace of mind. They want to interrupt us and get our attention at any opportunity.

Closing thoughts

If you’re designing experiences, your job is to remove distractions and let the user focus on the task at hand. Present them links, offers, notifications and anything else when the time is right, not all at once. If in doubt think what would you do if you were the user.

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