After almost two decades of designing and developing web I've found myself having an alarming thought: What if user interfaces must be clumsy, messy and ugly to create more traffic, engagement and conversions?
Since the dawn of the times web and app designers have been taught to create simple and easy interfaces. There's a famous book of web design called Don't Make Me Think (by Steve Krug), which idea is that the best interface doesn't require too much thought from its users. The best interface is straightforward and guides a user through fast and with ease. There are many reasons why this is an alluring thought. Web and app users have by now learned that they must use anything online or on their smartphones fast. If you stop to read and think, you are wasting your precious time. And time is money. Every minute on a website or using an app is taking that time away from something else. Thus, as a web designer, I must save your time.
Look at the most popular websites and apps. They often are messy. The messier the better. Here in Finland the most visited websites every week are the ones of two of our biggest tabloids. Click-baits, of course, full of ads, links to other "articles" and then some. Each a hot mess. YouTube is not the messiest of them all, but it's not the easiest to use either. Lots of stuff is hidden behind multiple clicks and the video pages are filled with stuff here and there. Not to mention the ads. They are everywhere, even on the videos. Facebook, the one where users spend in average almost one hour every day. It's a huge mess, where people don't even know how to stop videos from playing automatically (the setting can be chosen in Settings > Videos > Auto-play Videos). How about Snapchat? I keep seeing people asking how it's supposed to work (don't ask me, I don't know) and complaining about it's messy UI. And yet, it's a rising star. By the way, you can follow my Snapchatting struggles under my username merviemilia.
Despite that fact that time is precious, you are still spending more than 50 minutes per day on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. How often you are checking, sharing and reading on Twitter? Or posting and watching photos and videos at Snapchat? Or pinning stuff on Pinterest? The first of my weekly Shared Spaces included articles about how web and marketing is manipulating you. One of those articles was about Ev Williams (founder of Twitter and Medium), who talked about the most shareable web content as junk food. Junk food is hardly ever clean and sophisticated. It is junk. Messy, greasy, fast. A quick, but not the most attractive, fix for your brain. Another kind of waste of time. Very satisfying, for a moment.
The junk food theory suggests that the Internet, as it is today, is hitting to your automated thinking. I mean that part of your thinking, which happens without any effort. The type that doesn't require you to really think it through. The quick intuitions, the fast first impressions. I think there's more to it. The junk lures you in. The mess keeps you in. In order to get the junk you have to go through tons of ads, posts that don't interest you, stuff you like for being polite. You find yourself tweaking the endless, hidden settings, clicking the obscure icons, trying to understand how it works. The more there is, the more time you spend with it. Almost accidentally, you are suddenly thinking. Of course it's still more satisfying than your deadbeat job. Writing that passionate comment about the current state of education was totally using your energy and draining your body glucose. But dang, it felt good.
The allure of messy interfaces is in their capability of creating the junk food type of instant satisfaction and then making you work for more. Your eyes are not resting, your mind is not resting, your body is not resting. It's a game, a never-ending game. The price are the likes, the follows, the comments. The price is popularity or just the satisfaction of being right or on the right side. It's a quick fix and you want more.
What if user interfaces must be clumsy, messy and ugly to make you work for the instant fix?
I'm Mervi Eskelinen
I'm an artist, nerd and creative business wizard, dedicated to help you build the business of your dreams, market your creativity, and find a meaningful way to support your lifestyle.