But clutter doesn't apply only to individual screens. It also applies to interactions and task flows.
The task-management system I use, for example, displays the Task Detail page every time I finish editing a task. This fact, in and of itself, is fine, and it makes sense. I do usually want to see the final version of the task details once I've completed editing the page. But there's no ability to add a new task to the project I'm currently working with from the Task Detail screen, so I have to click a rather insignificant text link, displayed amongst loads of other text, to return to the Project screen and then click again to create a new task. This would be no big deal if I only used the application once a week, and only edited or added a couple of tasks at a time, but I often need to set up a new project and define a series of tasks all at once.
Every time I finish creating one task, I have to click back over to the Project screen to add the next new task. Since projects generally involve many individual tasks, I have to do this upwards of 10 or 15 times within a half hour. One little link on the Task Details screen (something like Create New Task) would cure this completely. Without the link, the process of setting up a new project involves reloading the Project page over and over again when I have no need to view the Project screen in the first place. This clutters up the workflow unnecessarily, because it means I have to constantly revisit screens I don't want to see to get to the ones I do want to see.
Drives me nuts.
The Path to Simplicity
It's not always possible to keep a Web-based application simple. There are some incredibly complicated applications out there, for good reason. Despite this, designing the obvious means striving for simplicity.
In the book Designing Visual Interfaces, authors Mullet and Sano state:
Every word in this sentence speaks volumes. "Reduction" tells us to reduce the scope of our software, stripping it down to what's really needed. "Successive refinement" tells us to iterate; don't stop at a single design and call it a day. Keep iterating, re-evaluating, challenging yourself to make the design cleaner, simpler, and more elegant (and thusly, more purposeful). And "simplicity" clearly references the principle goal of application design.
Making a complicated application clear requires making each piece of it as simple as possible. Designing the obvious means reducing and refining each screen, each task flow, and each interaction so that the purpose and function is as simple as possible.
When each piece of an application is reduced to its simplest form, the application as a whole achieves clarity.
DropSend limits the number of graphical elements used so as to maximize the space allowed for the display of stored files. Backpack leverages inline editing features to reduce the complexity of tasks so users avoid round-trip interactions where editing is done on administrative pages. JotSpot Live includes only the bare essential graphic elements on a given page to lessen the visual load of each page and focus completely on the ability to create and review notes. Google Page Creator reduces the number of features, including only the 20 percent needed by most people to create an effective and simple Web page quickly. Box.net lets you upload multiple files at once to reduce the time it takes to do the task.
All of these applications have a narrow scope, include only what's absolutely essential, rely on clean and simple interfaces, feature screens that are light on text, and focus entirely on the task at hand.
All of these qualities contribute to a simplified user experience and help reduce the complexity of their respective applications by avoiding clutter, both mental and physical.