Cluttered Projects

This post originally appeared December 20, 2010 on

I love clutterphoto © 2006 karl sinfield | more info (via: Wylio)
The below quote popped up in my news feed a few days ago and I felt I just had to share:
In fact, human behavior tells us that this is a more permanent effect than we realize. Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention. More clutter isn’t free. In fact, more clutter is a permanent shift, a desensitization to all the information, not just the last bit.
How true. I know that I’ve gone on about this subject a few times in the past, but every day I see another poorly developed user interface or another huge stack of papers that have been building up for years on a coworkers desk and realize that once you start down the slippery slope of clutter, it is nearly impossible to fight your way back out of that ravine.

We regularly wonder why no one reads the error messages in a user interface. Our stakeholders demand more pop-up messages to tell the users to pay attention to the pop-up they just said ‘OK’ to without reading. More fields are added to the user interface because one user is having trouble finding a piece of information, which increases the clutter for all the rest of the users.

So what do we do about it? We provide users the ability to customize their screens, hiding fields that are irrelevant to them and arrange the ones that are important to them. We provide them the ability to perform tasks in the order that makes sense to them, while unobtrusively prompting them for information they have failed to collect. We remove an unused or rarely used feature for every new one we add. We elicit requirements with usability in mind.