Monday, August 06, 2007

Feature Richness and User Engagement

Minimizing features and going for simplicity ...

"The more engaged users are, the more features an application can sustain. But most users have low commitment -- especially to websites, which must focus on simplicity, rather than features.

In designing any user interface, one of your key decisions concerns the tradeoff between features and simplicity. The more features, the more complicated the system inevitably becomes:

* Features have to be shown to users, so screens get busier.
* Menus get bigger and/or more numerous, making it harder for users to find the features they need.
* Features must be explained, ballooning the size of the help system and/or the manual:
--- Fatter documentation takes longer to read and makes it harder for users to extract a good conceptual model of the system.
--- More docs also make it harder for users to find the explanations they need.
* Each extra feature offers more rope for users to hang themselves: they're more likely to use the wrong feature, either as an error of intent (a mistake caused when they think the wrong feature is the one they need) or as an error of execution (that is, a slip, as when they click the wrong button in a crowded toolbar). Conversely, Steve Jobs famously defended the Mac's one-button mouse by pointing out that users would never click the wrong mouse button.
* The number of feature interactions grows by the square of the number of features: more can go wrong, and it becomes harder for users to understand why a change in one corner of the system has an effect in another corner.
* The more options users have to choose from, the more time it takes their brains to prepare for action and decide what to do. Even if a fancy feature can theoretically execute a task faster, overall system use often slows because users spend more time on the mental operations required to choose from among features than they save from the more efficient feature.

The answer seems clear: minimize features and chase simplicity at any cost. This is indeed the case for most user interface design, but not for all projects."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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