Thursday, May 08, 2008

Simplicity in Your Mind

There is increasing interest in the simplification of information technology (IT). The IT industry is recognizing the need to simplify software technology as businesses express their increased interest in governing the return on their IT investments. Two goals are surfacing as explicit mandates to which all software vendors are responding:

* lowering the skills required of software users
* increasing their productivity

Although this simplification mandate is most essential to small- and medium-sized businesses, where people with high-end technical skills may not be affordable, an awareness of the damage complexity inflicts on users is spreading to the enterprise market as well. Commoditization pressures make it necessary for the IT industry to reduce skills requirements as well as service and maintenance costs.

This article postulates that we cannot address the issue of simplification exclusively by analyzing the physical and computational parameters of technology. Instead, we must understand the goal of simplification in light of the knowledge, tasks, and processing-load demands on its users. We can approach simplicity as an engineering endeavor by controlling the impact on these three usage dimensions.

Software’s Complexity Complex

Software, like any other technology, has an intrinsic tendency to become more and more complex. In response to market forces, software developers struggle to differentiate products from those of their competitors by making them more and more functionally sophisticated. This has become a major problem for software vendors.

What are the dimensions of simplicity in software technology? Can those attributes be engineered? What do we mean by simplifying technology? What is simplicity?

Technology, unlike science, must be understood in light of its usage elements. To understand technology, we need to understand the individuals who use it. We cannot define complexity in technology solely in terms of objective physical parameters. If we accept the assumption that technology intrinsically involves human endeavor, we must accept the ergonomic, social, and mental agents that both build it and consume it. We must accept that its makers construct the complexity in technology.

The impact on technology of the physical and biomechanical properties of our bodies is well understood. The physical characteristics and limitations of our bodies constrain the optimization of users’ sitting postures and hand/arm alignment while physically interacting with hardware devices. For the most part, however, when it comes to information technology, complexity is in the mind."    (Continued via UXmatters, Lucinio Santos)    [Usability Resources]

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