TMI: Finding the balance of information supply in UX

Minimalism has been the name of the game in UI design for as long as UI design has existed. Apple’s sleek interface and Window’s boxy simplicity, defined the beginning of the home computer era, and as we move forward into devices and apps; having as little confusing information as possible has remained the goal.

Normally this is perfect, creating a streamlined experience that leads to ease of use. But when we expand from UI design into UX design it can start to cause problems. In the real world, people sometimes need all the information that a sleek UI hides away from them. While reading through all the details of a contract might be a bit boring, it is still information that we need in order to make an informed decision. Many websites hide all of their “boring” information away on pages only accessible through tiny hyperlinks in their footer, but for people with limited time or experience, the information might as well not be there.

Participant reading a website

Of course, too much information, even if it is all entirely correct, relevant and presented in a streamlined way, can cause its own set of problems. You only have to look at all the terrified hypochondriacs logged in to WebMD to realize that telling people more than they need to know can cause them distress. The key to information supply in your UX seems to be all about context in your communications, by providing users with not only all the information that they need but also the context they need to understand that information.

TV News has always been a prime example of information provided without context. Scaremongering stories about the terrible lethality of peanut butter or the dreadful economic impact of farmed salmon, only work when people don’t realize that the subjects being discussed are outliers rather than representative of the majority. It is one of the many reasons that young people are choosing to rely more on the internet as their primary source of news. Contextual information is never more than a Google search away.

Testing a website on a mobile phone

UX design is all about communicating information to the user. However, without taking the time to do deep and meaningful research into your users’ needs ahead of time, you may end up telling them all the wrong things or nothing at all. Because users’ needs are as varied and complex as snowflakes, deciding what they “need to know” is always going to be a difficult task without a dedicated research team keeping you responsive to those needs.

Adaptation may help separate the chaff from the wheat; design is an iterative process and with time even designers who failed to do the necessary groundwork can end up with a product that provides the right information, even if it took a lot of complaints from users to get there.

Principal Design Researcher

Sutherland Labs
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