Sunday, December 10, 2006

Simplicity Is Highly Overrated

Don Norman on features over simplicity ...

“Why can’t products be simpler?” cries the reviewer in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the local newspaper. “We want simplicity” cry the people befuddled by all the features of their latest whatever. Do they really mean it? No.

But when it came time for the journalists to review the simple products they had gathered together, they complained that they lacked what they considered to be “critical” features. So, what do people mean when they ask for simplicity? One-button operation, of course, but with all of their favorite features.

I recently toured a department store in South Korea. Visiting department stores and the local markets is one of my favorite pastimes whenever I visit a country new to me, the better to get to know the local culture. Foods differ, clothes differ, and in the past, appliances differed: appliances, kitchen utensils, gardening tools, and shop tools.

I found the traditional “white goods” most interesting: Refrigerators and washing machines. The store obviously had the Korean companies LG and Samsung, but also GE, Braun, and Philips. The Korean products seemed more complex than the non-Korean ones, even though the specifications and prices were essentially identical. “Why?” I asked my two guides, both of whom were usability professionals. “Because Koreans like things to look complex,” they responded. It is a symbol: it shows their status.

But while at the store, I marveled at the advance complexities of all appliances, especially ones that once upon a time were quite simple: for example, toasters, refrigerators, and coffee makers, all of which had multiple control dials, multiple LCD displays, and a complexity that defied description."    (Continued via jnd.org)    [Usability Resources]

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