Ian Dunstan

It’s a common theme in UX that less is more. How many times have we said (or heard) “keep it simple” and “only include the minimum that needs to be there”?

As UX specialists, we are constantly striving to include the lowest number of steps to get a user from point A to point B, the fewest words possible to write that killer headline or design the cleanest minimal interface to efficiently perform that task.

But when is less not the best solution? Can we go too far in our strive for simplicity? A recent UX project we undertook gave us the answers to these questions – read on to find out more!

The scenario

During a recent round of user testing on a project, we faced this very conundrum. The project in question was a data entry application that requires the user to fill in various information as part of an onboarding process. The aim being that the information gathered would then allow users to receive tailored information at the next step of their customer journey.

Business requirements vs user ease

The business requirements were clear:

We need to collect the total amount of money the client spends on a broad range of items”. OK, great. “And those items seem to fall in to 2 clear categories”. OK, even better.

“But we don’t want it to be too arduous or off-putting to enter that info, as it’s only a small part of the information we need. So, let’s have 2 input fields, one total for each category. That will match up nicely with the back-office system that we are pushing the information in to and will also create a nice simple screen. Over to you, UX team”.

And so, a collection of screens were created and tested with potential users. This enabled us to get feedback on:

  • The multiple user journeys involved
  • The tasks within each of those journeys
  • How clear the individual screens themselves are

Pass me the calculator

It quite quickly became apparent that the team’s best intentions of not asking the users to fill out lots of fields was not the best approach. Instead, we had presented the user with a simple screen that was concealing an arduous task.

Here are some examples of the user feedback we received:

“I’m not sure how I’d answer that.” “I’d have to put this app down to figure out what items I spend my money on.”

“I’d have to give it some thought and get my calculator out to fill this out”. 


This is obviously not what we were hoping to achieve!

How can we make it easier?

To resolve this, the question was not ‘how can we make it simpler?’, but rather, ‘how can we make it easier?’

The answer was by adding more fields. Not something we’d normally set out to do! Essentially, the users we tested all unanimously said “it would be easier if…” and then went on to describe a solution where they would like a number of prompts or predefined fields where they would know the answers and could rattle through them in quick succession by simply entering a numeric figure for each.

In essence, a screen containing 5-8 easy-to-answer questions was deemed to be far quicker and easier to complete than just one more ‘complex’ question with a single input field.

Effectively, the users were prepared to do more small steps that fitted with their thought process, rather than one larger task matching the business requirement that ultimately reached the same end point.

Don’t make me think!

So, even with the best will in the world, less is not always more. Instead, the ideal solution is to make the task in hand as streamlined, simple, and effortless as possible, even if that means adding more smaller steps to get there.

Users will likely be happier to answer more quick-fire questions with simple answers to get to the larger desired goal. Or to put it a different way and use another common UX phrase… ‘Don’t make me think!’

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