Verbosity does not equal usability: why you can’t solve design flaws with wording
A recurring theme I come across – particularly when dealing with larger organisations – is the tendency for people to try to fix design flaws by throwing more words at the screen. These have a way of quickly adding up like spitballs, creating screens full of mushy fragments of content that don’t really add up to anything cohesive or useful. The catch-phrase used at a large bank I recently did some work for was “that’s ok, we’ll just put some wording in there” and it was uttered repeatedly every time we ran usability testing sessions.
Despite being well-intended, it doesn’t work. In fact, it usually makes the problem worse. This is because content problems need to be fixed by content and design problems need to be fixed by design. If people are confused by something there is often a good reason for it. Is the label poor? Is the visual hierarchy at odds with the logical hierarchy? Is the sequence out of step with customer’s mental models? Is there a disconnect between the action and the entity it acts upon? Should the action be there at all? Throwing wording at broken designs just weighs them down more and reduces the relative visibility of everything else on the screen that is actually important.
Repeat after me: verbosity does not equal usability. ”Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” is the oft-quoted wisdom of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Can you spot the content in the following example that might be considered tedious verbosity?
The area of the screen that is visually strongest here is that which conveys the least content. In fact I would go as far as saying that it actually conveys nothing at all and this screen would be clearer and more usable without it.