Is Simple Always Better with Apps and Websites?

By | October 4, 2013
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

There has been a lot of discussion on good website and app design, with some people and companies advocating simpler apps with less features.  They argue that simple apps and websites are easier to maintain and are adopted and embraced more quickly by fans than more complicated ones.  They also argue that most users only use a fraction of a website’s features anyway, so why expend energy on features only a small percentage of people use.

Looking at some of the most popular apps and websites, most of them are relatively simple in their functionality.  The Google home page is a simple search box.  Twitter has limited features with posting, retweeting and replying being its core features.  Instagram focuses on posting pictures and images.  Then you have others with a more robust set of features, such as Facebook and Meetup, which have a simple purpose, yet more functionality necessary for implementing those goals.  Then you have things like Microsoft OfficeAdobe Dreamweaver, and Redmine which are both popular and feature rich.

As you can see, being simple is not a prerequisite for success, although the benefit of less to maintain is a real one.  So should you pursue a simpler design model or offer a feature rich website or app?

I think that really depends on several factors, including your resources and your target market.

Your Goals

One important thing to think about is what you are trying to accomplish with your website or application.  And then ask yourself, can you achieve those goals with only a bare minimum of features?

If you are out to design a popular image sharing app, your goals are going to be quite different than someone who is out to build a productivity app built around a certain philosophy.  Some apps and websites lend themselves to simplicity, while others, by their very nature, are going to be complex.  You can’t be the most advanced image editing software in the world if you lack the features that would make that true, for example.

You should also think about what you are going to do when your goals and your customers’ wants and needs start to diverge.

Understanding What Your Customers Want

One thing that is vital is knowing what your customers want.  And this is an ongoing effort, and people’s wants and needs can change over time, or even be influenced by how people use your website or app.  If you want your app or website to be popular, you have to understand your audience.  You can do this by talking to people (online or offline), polling existing customers / visitors, or analyzing statistics which show how people use your website or app.

You will also want to decide if you are going to be a niche product or a mainstream product.  Are you looking for the masses, or a smaller subset of the masses which has unique needs and wants.

Casual Users vs. Hard Core Power Users

One challenge you are going to come up against is the difference between the needs and wants of your casual users and your power users.  Casual users typically use a very small subset of yours app or site, and use it for specific reasons.  They typically do not take full advantage of the features or possibilities available.  On the other hand, your power users are going to use your app to the fullest and demand more.

While a majority of users of most popular apps are casual users, your hard core power users tend to be the most loyal and vocal users.  They are also the ones that are more likely to pay for advanced features, or log into your website frequently, increasing advertising impressions.  While it is tempting to remove or not implement features that a a small subset of your users would use, you risk alienating hard core users if you eliminate the features they love and desire.  In this case, majority rule may not be the best policy.

Alternative to Complexity

You should also explore possibilities for giving people extra functionality without adding functionality to your app or website.  One way to do that is to allow your website or app to interact with other website or apps.  For example, many websites now interact with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and more in various different ways.  Productivity apps can sync with services like Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook and Toodledo, allowing the same tasks and events to be manipulated in multiple apps.

Interacting with or syncing with other apps will give your app or website more functionality, while at the same time reducing the need for you to build that functionality yourself.

So Simple or Complex?

Depends on you, your customers / visitors, and what you want to accomplish.  Keeping in mind your goals, what your customers want (both casual users and hard core power users) will help you decide.


Scott M. Stolz

Entrepreneur, Educator, Author.
Helping people embrace life's opportunities.™