Is it time for a radical simplification of digital design?

Digital platforms designed to hijack attention and bloated with features are doing little for people’s collective wellbeing, but is it too late to embrace a more simple, human approach?

Ten years ago, Instagram was a simple place. You could share photos, you could look at photos, and that was about it. Fast forward to 2021 and it’s a many-tentacled beast. There’s Reels, Stories, story highlights, posts, IGTV, marketplace, promoted posts and direct messages.

And it’s a similar story for many other digital products that have become mainstays of our online lives. As features have proliferated, these platforms have become ever more complex and, for many, overwhelming worlds to inhabit. That’s reflected in their design, with apps, websites and streaming services bursting at the seams with options, menus and buttons, which often make them harder to understand and use – even for users that are digitally literate. Services we once loved for doing one thing are now doing 12, and often none of them very well.

Matt Rice, co-founder and creative director at digital product studio Sennep, agrees that these platforms are becoming increasingly complex. After the latest Instagram update, he says he struggled to work out how to post a picture or check notifications – two basic functions that underpin Instagram’s entire purpose. “I think they’re over-featured,” he tells CR. “It was very simple when the main purpose was to share pictures, follow people that you like, follow friends and family to see what they’re up to … but it definitely feels bloated. These new updates are really driven by the business rather than the user experience.”

We had this ‘do one thing well’ approach in the app boom, and it seems to have fallen by the wayside

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes