Baffle them with bullshit or keep it stupidly simple

There’s a saying in advertising that campaigns can take one of two approaches:

  1. Baffle the audience with bullshit, or
  2. Provide one stupidly simple idea clearly.

I think it applies to user interfaces as well. I think websites often do the first one and struggle to do the second.

I’ve been to (and worked on) websites where the businesses intent seems to be to baffle potential customers with an array of bullshit (features, functionality and even content they don’t need) and make them feel like they need it. Maybe this tactic works, hell it must do given how many infomercials exist in the world, but I like to think customers are maturing.

I’m noticing that companies who take the second approach are becoming more prevalent and successful – I’m thinking Apple and 37Signals. These companies that focus on doing one thing well and not diluting their market perception are the ones flourishing while others (I’m thinking Microsoft) get weighed down by their own bloated products, features and offerings.

3 Comments

  1. Rob

    Couldn’t agree more James but in my experience, the “baffle them with bullshit” isn’t a strategy, it’s just what happens when either (or both):

    a) too many internal people/departments have too many different interests that the goal of the page gets blurred.

    b) you try to please everyone rather than working out how to best serve one group simply, stupidly.

    I think our challenge is to convince those who look after their own interests and those that don’t want to alienate anybody so attempt to provide an offer for all that they are better served being more like Apple or 37 Signals.

    We’ve had some success with A/B testing. Allow people to voice their opinions, concerns and desires and then test different interfaces based on those points. It’s hard to argue with data.

  2. james Author

    Very good point Rob. I’ve certainly witnessed the complexity of a UI coming about due to teams trying to please differing people and departments. I’d suggest that this is the most common cause of overly complex interfaces.

    I like to think that as software businesses mature they start to realise the error of design committee approaches and give the responsibility of the end user experience to those that understand the business and user needs intimately. That’s not to say that a design process should not be open and collaborative but just that the final decision rests with a small core of experienced and qualified people.

    Great to hear you’ve had some success with A/B testing as well. Data certainly speak volumes but then I think A/B testing can be short sighted in some situations e.g. adding a popup banner ad will get more clicks than a normal in page one but what does it do for long term brand perception?

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Wilbur Pereira

    True. You cook and they’ll eat does not always hold true. Have experienced this and felt that KISS just works, but people find it really hard to digest that a simple and clean interface can convey the message.

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