Why the Web demands simplicity

The more sophisticated a society and its economy becomes, the easier it is for its citizens to do what they need to do.

In Lima, Peru, to legally establish a one-person garment workshop takes 289 days of bureaucratic toil, costing $1,231, 31 times the monthly minimum wage. In the Philippines, purchasing land can involve up to 168 steps, interacting with 53 public and private agencies, and take from 13 to 25 years. In Egypt, buying land can involve more than 77 procedures at 31 public and private agencies, and can take from 5 to 14 years. In Haiti, to buy land you need to jump over 111 bureaucratic hurdles, and wait for at least 12 years.

These countries have usability problems! And they are just a few examples from Hernando De Soto’s groundbreaking book, The Mystery of Capital.

A key reason we embrace the Web is because it increases transparency and reduces complexity. The Web allows us to make better decisions faster. The Web allows us to book a cheap flight quickly. At its best, the Web makes our lives easier.

We assume that in less advanced countries, things are simpler and cheaper. The opposite is often the case. I grew up in an Ireland that was poor. I often wondered why most things I bought were more expensive than they were in England-our much richer neighbor.

In Ireland, interacting with the government, with banks, and other important institutions, was a very, very difficult process. Today, now that Ireland has become much richer, almost everything has become simpler and relatively cheaper (except the houses!).

Organizations have an innate desire to protect themselves, to project their power and to justify their existence. Complexity creates work. Like the peacock’s feathers, complexity can be a very impressive show of what the organization is capable of.

The Web threatens complexity because the Web is about self-service, and self-service is founded on simplicity. The best websites are simple, not because they think being simple is a nice thing to do, but because they know that simplicity is necessary for success.

The Web offers you a glorious opportunity to do a massive spring cleaning at your organization. You have a rare chance to carry out a root-and-branch examination of what your organization does. Ask, ‘Why?’ about everything. Seek to eliminate and remove what you possibly can, because simplicity is a journey to the bare essentials.

Think of your website as a country. An advanced economy is built on a complex engine but a simple interface. A primitive economy is built on a simple engine but a complex interface.

Simplicity is a truly customer-centric philosophy. Making your website simpler is making it more effective. Adding complexity is easy, and is often a self-serving activity by those who are at heart organization-centric.