December 10th, 2015

Opinionated Design: Stop making me think!

Author: Ian Wilson
Ian Wilson
Partner & Creative Director
Yes this is what it looks like inside my head

Hilariously cheesy stock photo courtesy of

Be yourself, be genuine, be direct.

What does that really mean when it comes to software design though? Jason Fried at 37signals (now Basecamp) has this to say:

The best software has a vision. The best software takes sides. When someone uses software, they’re not just looking for features, they’re looking for an approach. They’re looking for a vision. Decide what your vision is and run with it.

For an example of opinionated design that you see (or use) every day- Apple products. They have their way of doing things, and good luck trying to tell them otherwise! While this is certainly a source of criticism for many, I think everyone can agree that if Apple is anything, it’s opinionated. What we’re talking about here isn’t limited to “graphic design”, but encompasses the entire user experience: industrial design, software design, user interface design, etc.  Any time the user interacts with your product.

Opinionated design is deliberate, intentional, and based on a single coherent vision.


Have you ever used a piece of software and immediately felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to you? It was built to account for just about any use-case scenario, and as such, it is packed to the gills with options to support that goal. Opinionated Design says this is what we’re doing, and this is how we’re going to do it, if you don’t like it, that’s too bad!

It’s the difference between one size fits all and a finely tailored suit.

Don’t make me think.

The motto of any well read student of usability. You want to be able to use software and devices intuitively, it should be clear what the purpose is and how to achieve it without having to stop and think about what you’re doing. When you’re presented with a multitude of options you suddenly have all of these choices to make, choices that require thought, that slows you down and creates friction in your interactions. This is what is called Decision Fatigue, and it is the silent killer of user-friendliness.

Make a statement

Not to be completely narcissistic but our own website here is a fair example of an opinionated design. We wanted to make one very simple statement—we build websites. Then we immediately proceed to show you the websites we build. We didn’t want to spend pages upon pages describe services and processes, writing boat loads of copy that no one truly wants or needs to read. Service offering does not equivocate at all to quality or expertise in those services, however the end product is an accurate barometer of competence.

Ultimately, anything that was not absolutely necessary we cut down to simplify the navigation path for the user. Surprising even to me, was that once we did this, our Google ranking actually rewarded our total lack of copy with improved rankings.

Fight the temptation to over-explain

Lastly (and believe me this is the hubris of anyone designing their own website): don’t get bogged down trying to say EVERYTHING. You want to have this beautifully written novella that perfectly conveys who you are and what you do and all of your services and it’s so exciting and ever so slightly overwhelming yet beautiful to behold and…and… Do you feel that internal monolog building every time you look at your own website? I’m right there with you.

At the end of the day people would much rather hear this directly from you. Give them enough but always leave them wanting more. Say what’s most important, don’t be that guy that’s constantly talking over other people in the conversation. Be that reserved guy that says very little, but when he speaks people know to listen.

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