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  1. Web Design
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Webdesign

Reducing the Bloat

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This post is part of a series called Design School for Developers.
Building Consistency and Relationships into Your Designs
An Introduction to Hierarchy

Complexity in our designs is often unavoidable. Sometimes, it’s also necessary. When working for any client there is always going to be a level of complexity that we will try to reduce, whether this is through the amount of navigation items they want, the amount of content that they have, or anything else that seems overly convoluted or difficult to follow.

Our job as a designer or developer (or both) is all about knowing how to creatively solve problems that our clients present us with. What their problem is doesn’t matter; whether that problem is simply to create a responsive website, or they want to increase sales is actually unimportant. Instead, we need to focus on the core elements that make the website work and work well. Understanding when to reduce the bloat is an important part of that.

Even though we may sometimes have a need for websites and designs that are more complicated than we would like, there are things that we can do to help reduce the bloat and still ensure we’re delivering the best experience to our users.

The oak.is website uses space in a great way, ensuring everything appears clear and easy to read.

The oak.is website uses space in a great way, ensuring everything appears clear and easy to read.

Complexity in our designs is often difficult to manage and can even be hard to spot. Whilst everything can seem like it’s going smoothly and you have a great design there can sometimes be hidden, overly complex interactions or elements. This sort of thing can creep up on you - and sometimes goes unnoticed until it is too late.

If your designs end up too complicated then this can create problems for both your clients and your users. Making websites too complex - even accidentally - has a big impact, as it makes websites not only less readable and difficult to navigate, but also much less usable. And a website that’s difficult to navigate and use results in a terrible experience for our users.

Reducing the bloat in a website design can be difficult, but overall it should help to improve the readability on the website. It can also help to improve website performance and speed up development times, because as simple as it sounds, there might sometimes be less to actually develop and build.


Reducing the Bloat

Reducing the bloat in your designs means taking things back to basics and stripping your design right back. This doesn’t mean that you will create a design that is totally minimalist and have to get rid of all of the fancy, pretty embellishments or visual statements that you might have. Instead, focus on de-cluttering the interfaces and websites that you design.

However, reducing the bloat doesn’t mean that we will, or should, always take away elements or items that are present in our designs. Sometimes, it is about knowing how to manage the content that we have to place on the page and understanding how this content should be displayed in the best possible way for our users.

The Paravel homepage very simply talks about what the company does, while still reflecting a lot of personality.

The Paravel homepage very simply talks about what the company does, while still reflecting a lot of personality.

Getting Started

Let's examine how we can begin reducing the bloat in any given situation.

Review the Content Structure

The first thing I’d recommend doing when trying to minimise the bloat in your designs is to take a look over the content you’ve been provided. Often, this content can be the crux of the problem and be the stage where things have been missed. Once you’ve started to design with the content you have, there may be parts of the content that don’t sit quite right in the design itself. It’s more than okay to go back and tweak, edit or remove content that doesn’t work, even at this point in the process.

In reality, you want to see what content works in the context of your designs, and if the content doesn’t fit, or seems excessive, then don’t be afraid to challenge this. Try to find ways that you can make that content either more digestible and readable (and thus appearing less cluttered). That age-old mantra of “quality over quantity” really does apply here.

Think back to your content strategy and planning steps. Using items such as bullet points, links, images, headings and more all break up your content into chunks that are much more readable.

In turn, that helps free up valuable extra space in your design and can make it appear less bloated. Each of the elements will have more breathing room, and even if you haven’t actually removed anything from your design, your website will feel more polished, structured and less bloated and cluttered.

Give Room to Breathe

Also, try to avoid designing items that are grouped far too closely together. Use your grids and composition layouts to help you in giving a little more room for parts of your design that feel cramped or over-crowded. Don’t be afraid of breaking from the grid from time to time and roll with your own ideas or interpretations of how to de-clutter your design. All I ask is that if you do break from the grid or standard that you’ve set, you ensure that you have a good reason to do so - but more importantly, that you understand the reasons for why you’re doing it.

Simon Foster's website is very minimalist in style, with content clear throughout the website.

Simon Foster's website is very minimalist in style, with content clear throughout the website.

Remove Bits and Pieces if Necessary

Ask yourself if all of the visual elements on your website design really need to be included. Now is the time to be completely ruthless and remove anything that doesn’t need to be included in the final design.

Take the time to prioritise the message that you want to be projecting to the users of the website, and make sure that the elements and visual styles you have in place will help you to do this. Make sure that your design has enough clarity without going overboard with the message you’re trying to give. Sometimes, removing elements of your design will help in keeping your message clear without going over the top.

Don’t Be Afraid of Adding More

And as crazy as this is going to sound; don’t be afraid of adding to your design. Use embellishments or stylish dividing graphics to properly separate and contain content into more manageable, easy-to-read-and-scan chunks. This sounds silly, as I said to reduce the bloat, and here we’re adding to the design. But, in essence, if doing this can reduce the amount of time that your users have to spend finding the information they’re after or reading and scanning the page, then those extra visual elements are worth adding in.


Assignment

See what you can do to reduce the bloat in your design; whether that is through clever use of splitting your content up, or through removing parts of your design that are redundant or unnecessary.

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