Two interesting recent articles discuss the importance of building in simplicity to product design to make things more useful to people.
Contrary to popular belief, simple is not easy. Mat Mohan in Wired Magazine (Feb. 2013) says that “simplicity is about subtraction,” and “subtraction is the hardest math in product design.”
Two of the best recent examples of simplicity through subtraction is what Apple was able to achieve with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes, and what Google did through its “sparse search page.”
Unfortunately, too many companies think that “quality is associated with more,” instead of less, and so they pack on options, menus, and buttons until their darn devices are virtually useless.
Similarly, an article in the Wall Street Journal (29 March 2013) advocates that “simplicity is the solution,” and rails against the delays, frustration, and confusion caused by complexity.
How many gadgets can’t we use, how many instructions can’t we follow, and how many forms can’t we decipher—because of complexity?
The WSJ gives examples of 800,000 apps in the Apple store, 240+ choices on the menu for the Cheesecake Factory (I’d like to try each and every one), and 135 mascaras, 437 lotions, and 1,992 fragrances at the Sephora website.
With all this complexity, it’s no wonder then that so many people suffer from migraines and other ailments these days.
I remember my father telling me that you should never give consumers too many choices, because people just won’t know what to choose. Instead, if you simply give them a few good choices, then you’ll make the sale.
Unfortunately, too many technologists and engineers develop ridiculously complex products, and too many lawyers, legislators, and regulators insist on and prepare long and complex documents that people aren’t able to read and cannot readily understand.
For example, in 2010, the tax code was almost 72,000 pages long, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is about 2,700 pages, and the typical credit card contract now runs to 20,000 words.
Even the brightest among us, and those with a lot of time on their hands, would be challenged to keep up with this.
While rewriting and tax code is a welcome topic of discussion these days, it befuddles the mind why most of the time, we simply add on new laws, rules, regulations, amendments, and exclusions, rather than just fix it—plain and simple.
But that’s sort of the point, it’s easier for organizations to just throw more stuff out there and put the onus on the end-users to figure it out—so what is it then that we pay these people for?
The plain language movement has gotten traction in recent years to try and improve communications and make things simpler and easier to understand.
Using Apple as an example again (yes, when it comes to design—they are that good), it is amazing how their products do not even come with operating instructions—unlike the big confusing manuals in minuscule print and numerous languages that used to accompany most electronic products. And that’s the point with Apple—you don’t need instructions—the products are so simple and intuitive—just the way they are supposed to be, thank you Apple!
The journal offers three ways to make products simpler:
- Empathy—have a genuine feel for other people’s needs and expectations.
- Distill—reduce products to their essence, getting rid of the unneeded bells and whistles.
- Clarify—make things easier to understand and use.
These are really the foundations for User-Centric Enterprise Architecture, which seeks to create useful and usable planning products and governance services—the point is to provide a simple and clear roadmap for the organization, not a Rorschach test for guessing the plan, model, and picture du-jour.
Keeping it simple is hard work—because you just can’t throw crap out there and expect people to make sense of it—but rather you have to roll up your sleeves and provide something that actually makes sense, is easy to use, and makes people’s lives better and not a living product-design hell. ;-)
(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)