Have you heard about Simplicity Theory? Even if you haven’t heard about it, you’ve seen it if you’ve used Google or Ask.com’s new interface. Ask.com’s simplified interface is competive to Google’s interface.
Helping companies create simplified websites while keeping them competitive is something NextStage is often asked to do. It involves balancing the complex with the simple and is what today’s column is about.
Why Things Fail
Catastrophe Theory and Complexity Theory are all about why things fail. Catastrophe Theory states that things fail when one or more critical elements are no longer present. The more critical the element, the faster that critical element disappears, the quicker things fail. It’s that simple. Doesn’t matter what the system is, let one critical element go away and the system won’t survive. It’s why we say things suffer “catastrophic failure”. Catastrophe Theory applies to machines, governments, companies, lava flows, economies, industries, … it touches everything.
Complexity Theory tells us that the more pieces a system requires in order to function, the more likely it is that that system will fail. Complexity Theory is like stacked dominoes. Instead of one catastrophic failure bringing everything down, one minor problem leads to another minor problem and eventually enough dominoes are knocked over and the system stops working. Complexity Theory explains why we look different as we age, why hierarchical chains of command form, why governments and large organizations tend to become bureaucratic, things like that.
It’s tougher to figure out what’s wrong with complex systems because a lot can go wrong before the system starts to noticeably fail. Instead, it keeps limping along and compensating for its short comings. Catastrophic failure is easy to diagnose. “See that busted flamsmidget? That’s the problem.”
Simplicity Theory — what many people know of as “KISS: Keep It Simple, Sherlock” — is the slider between Catastrophe Theory and Complexity Theory. Too simple and, when one thing breaks, you’re done. Too complex and you never know what needs fixing.
Simplicity Theory brings us back to the Google interface, the Ask.com interface and marketing best practices.
Simplicity Theory falls from language studies. Languages evolve to convey the greatest amount of information in the least amount of time. This is how jargon becomes jargon in the first place. Groups create their own language, their own jargon, for identification purposes, for recognition purposes, to make their group more cohesive and exclusive, … there are several reasons. It’s a kind of verbal secret handshake.
The problem with jargons is that they’re specialized. A lot of information is communicated rapidly but the audience for that communication grows smaller and smaller as the jargon grows more and more specialized.
For example, I suffer from flexor tendinitis. There are 562 Google and 604 Ask.com entries on flexor tendinitis. There are 625,000 Google and 168,200 Ask.com entries on “trigger finger”, which is what flexor tendinitis is known as to people who don’t speak the osteopath’s medical jargon.
What we learn from this is that there’s a much larger audience for the non-jargon, non-precise “trigger finger” than there is for the specialized, precise “flexor tendinitis”.
A Simple Path to Success
Now let’s bring Simplicity Theory down to a company’s website; Market size determines web page complexity.
Example: most people can see the Google or Ask.com interface and use it. It is simple; 1) Enter text in blank, 2) Click on button, 3) Get results.
Simple. Just about anyone can use it. The equation looks like this:
Some people need a more sophisticated search. Not everyone needs one and not just anyone can use Ask.com’s or Google’s advanced search interfaces. Again, there’s an equation:
This applies to businesses because these equations directly apply to home pages and landing pages versus deeper level pages. Deeper pages can and should be more complex than landing and home pages because businesses need to educate their visitors to draw them in, therefore save the jargon until they’ve qualified themselves with a click.
The simpler your home/landing page — the more your market can get a desired result from where ever they enter your website — the more end-users, conversions, what-have-you, you’ll have.