January 23, 2020
March 18, 2019

Sometimes Simplicity is Key

The best technology simplifies complex experiences.  But bad design can cause the reverse.

Everyday our daily lives are simplified by products, applications, and processes that allow us to meet our needs while doing less. This explosion of new technologies, products, services, and applications has spawned a much needed companion: the tutorial. Because before something new can make our lives easier we have to figure out how to use it.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a well designed experience is worth a million.


But once you achieve said "well designed experience"... I wouldn't recommend using that many words to describe it. If you put the HTML into your blog platform the video should embed there.


Case in point, United Airlines' "Better Boarding" instructional video, which tries to give insight into its new boarding process that went into effect this past summer.

Yeah... it tries.  The problem is, the explanation is so detailed and convoluted that it makes simple, intuitive actions sound super confusing. Let's break down the vid.  


Ignore for a moment the non-messaging elements. Okay, so I can't NOT mention the hokey music choices or  the chaotic nature of the text popping up, but I digress. The whole POINT of the video is to explain how little stress and confusion you will have now when boarding, but ironically the video itself makes viewers MORE stressed and confused by over explaining the two lane structure and which groups can board in which lanes and when. It veers further down the rabbit hole when detailing possible travel scenarios, like "What if I'm late?”


When trying to communicate complex topics, it is highly important to distill the information into WHAT is important to know when.  The issue is that United’s new boarding process is not complex so the video didn't have to cover all this info.  This, honestly, didn't even have to be a video.


NO ONE is going to be at United's Gate and be like "Hm.... what should I do now? Better bust out the explainer video and watch it for step-by-step instructions."  


Ironically, the problem is NOT with the process!  When you go through the process in real life, it is better! I did it on my trip to Istanbul earlier this month and it is so natural that you don't even notice it.  


United is not alone in struggling to communicate its innovations. Companies are consistently designing new tools and asking users to do things differently than they are used to. The issue many face is not trusting new and existing users to understand what is being asked of them and why they’d want to make the change.


Well designed products and processes are innately intuitive. Too often designers, marketers, and salespeople feel the need to prove worth by explaining every facet of their products and services, and unintentionally overwhelm the very people they are looking to sway. Companies put forth as much time and effort into innovation as United did to conceive and test their new boarding process, which can easily lead us to get stuck in the minutiae of what they create.


It is common to struggle with simplicity when you feel you have so much to tell a customer. I consistently see this with my own clients who want to put out a virtual data dump to be sure the world knows all they can do and offer. It is easy to be afraid that if you don’t answer and handle all potential objections up front that you will miss out on the perfect client or user. Understanding how to communicate the most important information and trusting that it is enough to get a customer to at least ask one more question or try what you’ve designed is a skill that takes much practice. Learn how to do it well and you too can have people following where you lead with very few words at all.