Yesterday I was visiting my grandmother, who had recently purchased a new computer and wanted to use the Internet. The person who had helped her install her computer had set her up with Juno because it was free. However, my grandmother found it impossible to use because it was too visually distracting. She wanted access to a few things including e-mail, IM, and maps. She and I changed her dial-up service to that provided by her local phone company and then registered a gmail.com account and changed her default homepage to google.com.
Gmail is one of the nicest e-mail interfaces I have ever seen from a usability standpoint. It beats all of the web mail interfaces hands down and even most of the desktop clients. The biggest problem with e-mail programs today is that there are too many small buttons. It is nearly impossible for someone like my grandmother to use them. Gmail is clean cut and uses discrete advertising that does not distract from the task at hand.
I hope more companies learn from Google and forgo the horrible flash animations, animated gifs that blink, and other antiquated advertisement techniques. Plain, well-placed, discrete information can be seen as helpful and not distracting. Simple layouts with less clutter will greatly improve the user experience.
I really like the Royal Bank of Scotland’s advertisements of “Less talk.” It is the same principle that Google appears to be using with great success. I can only hope that the software and Internet industries mature and apply the same principles.