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Tim Riley, director of online experience for eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, has a simple approach when it comes to creating an atmosphere for his customers: always find a happy medium between dazzling and informing. For the creators of an understated eyewear line, perhaps that is not so surprising.

“You don’t need to go from zero to 60,” he says. “What’s the biggest, grandest thing out there, with the most bells and whistles? That’s how our brains are wired. But you don’t need to go full steam ahead,” he said in an interview today.

He first mentioned this idea at a conference last week in San Francisco. He recalled trying to figure out how customers could best view and examine Warby Parker glasses, to see how they look while they are on a customer’s head.

A few of the suggestions the team ran through: the typical instructional video, a still photo, or an animated GIF.

He racked his brain looking for something simpler than an animated GIF, but not as lifeless as a photo. The solution he eventually settled on was a series of stills that a customer could rollover with a cursor, slowly rotating the head of a model wearing the glasses. It’s like a rubbable GIF, but more sedated. Warby competitors have entered the market in droves with their own take on the glasses try-on technology. Ditto, for example, uses a video.

The reason Riley thinks this approach works better has to do with empathy for the customer. In a way, he says, the work that he does is directly parallel to the work a customer has to do. For example, the effort that goes into making an instructional video – writing it, shooting, casting, editing, and more – also means more effort for the viewer – waiting for it to load, investing the minute and a half to watch it. With the rollover pictures, it was less work for both himself and the customer, and the most frictionless solution.

It’s not a new notion. Steve Jobs was famous for saying things should be as simple as they need to be. But thinking about both a customer and a designer’s work as parallel is a new way to conceptualize an old idea.

[Image credit: ashlinixon.com]