Child simple. It's a great expression.
However, I wouldn't describe children as simple-minded; children can be quite logical and philosophical; they can be direct thinkers. By that I mean they tend to see what's obvious and connect two points with a straight line.
Gopnik compares babies to the research and development department of the human species, while adults take care of production and marketing. Like little scientists, babies draw accurate conclusions from data and statistical analysis, conduct clever experiments and figure out everything from how to get mom to smile at them to how to make a hanging mobile spin. Like adults, the author claims, babies are even capable of counterfactual thinking (the ability to imagine different outcomes that might happen in the future or might have happened in the past).
Babies and children look at the world literally with new eyes and ears. As a child, I used to tell my mother when I would hear the birds singing. I wouldn't stop telling her until she responded back to me that she heard them. Sure, I drove her bananas. But listen to the birds some morning - even pigeons cooing - it's a beautiful sound!
Children appreciate what is right in front of them without caring about what others think. They see the simplicity, playfulness and fun right around us.
As we get older, we get distracted by our own thoughts and busy-ness. We worry about what others will think about what we do or don't do. Our fears and worries make the world more complicated than it needs to be, and stripping this away makes us think more childlike and get simpler.
Here are 3 suggestions for how we UX professionals can think more like children and produce simpler (i.e., better) user experiences.
1. Design the obvious.
Children state the obvious.
Something else that kids do is they will state facts, or describe something that’s pretty obvious. Whereas adults, we tend to think it indicates that we are not thinking hard. Talk about power of acknowledging the obvious.
--Think Like a Child, a new Freakanomics Podcast, May 2014
Adults think about too many factors when they do anything.
- What will others think of me if I propose something so simple?
- Aren't we supposed to be designers who make something cool?
- Doesn't simple and cool take a lot of time to create? It shouldn't be this easy.
- Will the team like the solution?
- Will the users like the solution?
- Will the developers be happy with this approach?
With all that worry and anxiety, we forget to think about what makes sense or what's the obvious, most direct path to solve the problem. We erroneously believe that brilliance comes from complexity.
Simplicity and designing the obvious is the theme behind MVP product. Why do we all hate that term? It's minimal viable product - which isn't synonymous with "a product with a lousy experience." Great online experiences can be simple (and usually are). Virgin America and Amazon illustrate this best.
Simple doesn't mean that it doesn't work, it looks horrible, or is difficult. In fact, simple may be seamless, direct, easy, and enjoyable, in the same way as a plain donut or vanilla ice cream. It's the obvious solution.
I love donuts. And the test of a great donut place is to try their plain donuts. If they are tasty on their own, you know that anything added onto them will be delicious.
Great plain donuts only come from working on the obvious (making a great donut) rather than contemplating the possibilities of what a great donut could be with sprinkles, chocolate, bacon, etc.
It's about living in the present, focusing on the recipe and making a great donut.
The same is true with ice cream. Ask people what their favorite flavor is for ice cream and vanilla wins! Yes, vanilla. And is this bad? No. It's simple. Simple, straightforward and easy doesn't mean awful.
And the ability to make great vanilla ice cream usually means that the person making ice cream has mastered the art of plain ice cream; he can add anything to it to make it taste even better.
We sometimes need to take a step back from our own complicated thinking and remind ourselves what makes vanilla ice cream or a plain donut tasty. If we don't make the simple, straightforward approach to a product solid enough to stand on its own, adding animations and layers won't make it better. If anything, it resembles that expression, "lipstick on a pig."
It's ok to be simple, plain and vanilla. In fact, there's a mastery in that.
2. Make it fun to use.
Adults often forget to play. We sometimes think that playing involves substances. And although they can be fun, that's not play. One could say that indulging in substances could be compared to feeding a child too many sugary treats - its fun to do, but get ready for super hyper activity and a long nap in a few hours.
The crash after the substance just isn't fun. Not exactly the best life experience.
I'm not suggesting that anyone turn a banking experience into a video game. In fact, I'm suggesting just the opposite.
What's fun for a child?
- Pleasant surprises - like gifts! Why do kids like Advent calendars, Russian nested dolls, or pinatas? Because there can be candy or other goodies hidden inside, and you have to crack this object open to get it. Sure, it is work to get to the prize, but that's what makes these toys fun - you get a reward for trying. UX teams could translate that almost literally online - let the user get rewarded for trying. Give the user what he is looking for along the way, discovering and uncovering "treats" in his journey.
- Simple games. In some ways kids are like cats and dogs. You can give a cat a carpeted tower and toys, and the cat will go hide in a box or paper bag that's around the house. Or you can give a dog a bunch of toys and he grabs the tennis ball to play fetch. Children will play fort with pillows, sheets, and boxes. For UX that means keep the experience basic. It means more to a user to complete his task easily than for him to experience cool widgets and still not achieve the goal he had in mind when he went to your site or app.
- There is an object to the game. When kids play, usually there is a purpose to what they are doing. Even if a kid is digging in the backyard for no apparent reason, to that child, he may be digging to get to China, or he is building a fort to hide. The same is true for UX - what's the goal? The user should always be working towards the goal (buying a book, reading an article, finding information).
3. Captures someone's attention.
Back to plain donuts and vanilla ice cream - if they are super tasty, people will drive miles to come back for more. Plain can capture people's attention if it is good.
Watch a child watch Sesame Street or a Disney/Pixar movie - they watch it with intense wonder. They may multi-task and color while watching a movie, but not in the same way adults do. They are focused on that movie. These children's movies usually don't have complicated plot lines or difficult concepts to understand. It's a simple story with a simple lesson and not a lot of characters. Yet, these movies keep children captivated for hours (The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, The Wizard of Oz)
Great UX captures someone's attention to complete a task. It doesn't require a lot of attention to complete the experience, but enough to finish the task. It's simple, engaging and entertaining. There doesn't need to be a bunch of animation or special content, but there is content that will interest the user and engage him to read more, take action, engage and participate at the site.
Here are some examples of child simple sites:
- Amazon's purchase page. There's a lot of info there, but it is child simple - you can skim it. And the page resembles just a receipt of your purchase, really, and know you need to confirm it. It doesn't take a lot of thought to figure out what it is.
- Virgin America. It's designed to be responsive so it incorporates a more mobile approach - one decision at a time per screen. You choose your origin and destination cities, you select your dates, then you pick your seats. It's simple, yet fun (the little avatar guys are so cute!), captivating and you are able to make a decision quickly.
- Google sure the results are weighted, but you can't get more child simple than a single searchbox and search result. Don't design for the machine to provide the right results; design for what I want to do in a fun way.
With the introduction of mobile devices, we are growing accustomed to child simple experiences. And to create those experiences, we need to think like children and design the obvious, make it fun, and make sure it captures someone's attention. If there were more sites like that, doing anything online would be super simple and easy - almost so easy a child could do it.