The high cost of offshore infrastructure provides continuous encouragement for optimisation of design practices. Development of a more rational method to interpret results from simple shear tests with cell pressure confinement can reduce costs and improve reliability of offshore infrastructure. This paper addresses a commonly overlooked issue affecting design parameter selection: specimen shape varies from right cylinder to oblique cylinder after loading along a single shearing direction. Thus, horizontal stresses are not always equal to the cell pressure and their magnitude varies throughout the specimen’s lateral surface. An analysis is proposed that accounts for changing specimen geometry and lateral surface area during shearing and for the actual effect of cell pressure during testing. The analysis also describes how the intermediate principal stress can be assessed. Test results for medium dense silica sand are interpreted following de Josselin de Jong’s alternative shearing mechanism hypothesis. Conventional interpretation methods yield conservative design parameters for this soil. Failure states develop when the intermediate principal effective stress is halfway between major and minor principal effective stresses. Typical results for the soil tested show equipment performance meets standard direct simple shear requirements for shear strain rate, vertical stress and specimen height control.