Leave Out The Kitchen Sink

Mistake #12: Lack of Focus

One of my recurring frustrations at Social Innovation Camps is a project presentation which is going well, but then includes the line of death: “And, of course, we also plan to add X”. Here, ‘X’ can be almost anything, but without exception, it’s something only tangentially related to the main project. Clearly the team believe it to be important to show that they haven’t simply been focused on the project they’re demoing, but also have plans for all the other exciting features they could have added, had they only had more time. With me, however, this approach almost always backfires, and simply leads to me instantly deducting a boatload of marks. I would be much more impressed if someone were to say1 “We’re sorry this version does so much — we didn’t have time to make it simpler.”

As previously discussed, simplicity is key. But it’s hard. One of the reasons most government sites are so crazily complicated is because they tend to include every conceivable thing they think you might ever want to know or do2. In a bid to make a site which people actually want to use, are able to use, and indeed like to use, you need to make things as simple as possible, and then, repeatedly, go back and make them simpler still. It’s always easier to add new features, than the simplify existing ones. And it’s a very seductive trap. It makes you feel good. You can write a self-congratulatory announcement for it and have it liked and retweeted everywhere. But the key, fundamental question should always be: does this make things easier for your users? And, usually, the answer is no. Having too many options not only confuses people, but actually drives them away.

Putting effort into repeatedly simplifying your site isn’t glamorous. It’s harder to get good PR out of it. “Website relaunched, now with fewer features!” isn’t a common headline. But your users will love it. Remember: “perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.”3

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  1. with apologies to Blaise Pascal []
  2. which usually differs significantly from what we actually want to know or do, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant []
  3. Antoine de Saint Exupéry []
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