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20 May 2013

I live next to a huge mall in London. Last night as I was walking through the mall to the grocery store on the other side, I couldn’t help but noticed the terrible music that was blasting through the speakers and into my ears.

Naturally I put on my headphones to stop what was happening, but seconds later, I realised it was not just the music. There were millions of other things being shoved into my eyes – the display windows, the colourful stands, the flashing digital signages, the wallpapers, they are all trying to talk to me, all trying to sell me something. I lowered my head only to find there were advertising stickers on the floor.

Last year I went back to Taiwan for a couple of weeks. While I was there I kept feeling there were this constant noise that I cannot get rid of. I cannot have one single quiet moment and it annoyed me so much.

You see, I am from Taipei, and this is just an ordinary street:


**It is mad. **

Interestingly though, I have never noticed it while I was living there, it was only after 5 years living in the UK that I realised there is this massive difference. London is in comparison a lot quieter.

Imagine every signage has a voice, and as soon as you lay eyes on it, it starts talking: “Hey are you hungry? We serve a mean pork belly bun!”, “Do you need a haircut? We are offering student discount! Not that you look like a student.”, “We sell rice burger and we are from Japan! Why not come in?”, “Wanna buy a lottery? Chance to win 5 million!”

I missed London a lot while I was there, I missed the quietness; regardless growing up in the city, I have never “liked” quietness particularly.

So being in the mall reminded me, the other day when I was at the gym, there was something similar. The TVs, all 8 of them, right in front of the treadmills. Are you kidding me?

Everything in this mad world now requires us to make a deliberate effort to shut things off, otherwise they will sneak through every possible crack to get into your head.

To block the noise, it might be as easy as putting on your headphones, but it might not be.

Taiwanese are particularly good at, I mean, addicted to, shoving things into your face. Take Yahoo! Taiwan for example:

Yahoo Taiwan

And the second largest web portal in Taiwan:


It is as if leaving white space is a deadly sin.

I am not showing them so I can bash Taiwanese websites, I am showing them as examples of the extreme cases, and it is bad, so we need to move towards the opposite direction.

Sure, we often see nice, clean, well-spaced websites when we work in tech, but this is not about the design, this is about the amount of information you present. We all know how scrolling works, but is it necessary to give people 20000 pixels to scroll?

I am not good at selling at all, so I am not talking about what will work for a business. I am talking about NOT shoving things to people’s faces when they don’t need the information. Why? Because there needs to be a noise control and I want my quietness, so should you.

If people click through to an article they do not need to know who you are, where you’re from and who do you work for before they read the article, and obviously they would not want to subscribe to your blog out of nowhere. Sure, less clicks means higher conversion rate, but it comes with a price.

Simplicity is not hard, you just have to leave certain unimportant things out. Just be aware of the Signal v.s. Noise ratio. Things that are not the signal, are noise. You might as well have the most bullet-proof rationale as to why everything just NEEDS to be shown and above the fold, but just listen to your page. How many of the things are shouting? How come you are not deaf yet?

Our environment is gradually upping the volume for what seems to be a perfectly legitimate reason – sales. And we are getting used to it.

There will be a day, when we realised that the background noise is dominating our world, and it is going to be too late, as we can no longer hear the signal from all the noise.

A somewhat relevant video: