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More potent experiences come from ‘reductive’ design

February 19, 2012 - 0 Comments

Sometimes, to create a high-quality experience, a product just needs some time to simmer.

Soups, sauces, and consommé are the result of boiling down to an intensely flavorful product and technology can benefit from a similar process of distillation.

The reductive process in cooking derives a more concentrated mixture with less volume than before the boiling but with a much greater quality. With frequent stirring, the impurities are brought to the surface and removed, leaving a more concentrated, and potent, product.

We’ve done some simmering, stirring and reduction of the support site recently. Ten links were removed from every overlay on the support home page in January.

That’s a reduction of about 150 links from one of the most frequently viewed pages on, and yet the change went unnoticed.

The links we removed were for the top 5 documents and top 5 downloads in each product category. Our user testing suggested they might be valuable, so we added them when we launched the redesign in July.

As we monitored the site metrics, those links accounted for less than 2% of all clicks on the overlays.

So we got rid of them.

This distillation process applies to websites as well as almost any technology product. A feature-set refined to its essence can provide a richly concentrated experience.

But most products, websites and mobile apps keep adding new features, content and capabilities regardless of whether people are using them. Too many product teams either loathe or are apathetic to remove features.

Nonetheless, reductive design is becoming more critical as web tools and content migrate to mobile devices where there are more constraints and restrictions.

For example, the smaller screen-size forces designers to make some tough choices.

CNET has an article about the latest release of Bump Technologies’ Bump app that talks about how the team actually removed functionality that wasn’t adding value and simplified and focused the app. This definitely runs counter to the routine “add more features in every release” approach, so prevalent in software industry.

It’s a great example of monitoring app usage metrics and changing the app based on what users are actually doing.

Like any ingredient, a new feature can seem like a good idea in isolation. However, when added to a delicately complex stew of other features and content, it can get lost in the mix, or dilute or otherwise weaken the balance of the concoction.

In this regard, designers are a bit like a chef who knows that too much of anything can be just as damaging as too little.

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