Monday, May 05, 2008

Simplicity: Functionally and Visually

Reducing buttons does not make product easier to use ...

"Simplicity is something to strive for apparently. Muji does it. Philips does it. Paris does it. It just might become the 'user-friendliness' of this decennium: an appealing, but somewhat vague notion of 'goodness' in interaction. We all agree: it should be there, but no-one is exactly sure what it is. Or is really sure, but everyone else disagrees. To some it means getting what you need, to others it means leaving out the frills.

So, time for some clarification. Or perhaps we should say diversification. In 'Simplicity, the Ultimate Sophistication' Joshua Porter brings a number of authors (gurus, blog-heads and indeed some actual designers) to the stage to speak their minds on simplicity, such as Don Norman, Mark Hurst, Scott Berkum and John Maeda. Porter himself adds some flavor to the subject by bringing out Barry Schwartz' paradox of choice and applying it to product design:

Users face a trade-off when they must make a choice between a simple product or a complex product with more features. If they choose the product with fewer features and eventually need some functionality that is missing, they've made a bad choice. However, when users choose the complex product with more features, they don't have to make this trade-off. The complex product is more likely to have the feature users may need in the future.

I usually call that the 'I-don't-know-what-that-feature-is-exactly-but-I-might-need-it-someday'-syndrome. Another worthwhile observation about simplicity can be found at GUUI.com, where Henrik Olsen points out the difference between avoiding visual complexity and providing true simplicity:

Usability is based on principles such as "Less is more" and "Keep it simple, stupid". But there is more to simplicity than meets the eye. By reducing visual complexity at the cost of structural simplicity, you will give your users a hard time understanding and navigating the content of a web site.

In other words: reducing the amount of buttons and adding a deep menu structure does not necessarily make a product easier to use. See also earlier uselog posts on expected usability. Meanwhile PresentationZen reviews John Maeda's book 'The Laws of Simplicity', and illustrates it (how appropriate) with some appealing visuals."    (Continued via the product usability weblog)    [Usability Resources]

Apple vs. Dell - Usability, User Interface Design

Apple vs. Dell

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