Monday, December 11, 2006

Is simplicity dead

Donald Norman invites journalists over to check out some simple products -- and they all find critical features missing. Joel Spolsky finds that nothing increases revenue more than adding features. Simplicity, they conclude, is dead.

Donald notes from a trip to Korea:
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.

...the people want the features. Because simplicity is a myth whose time has past, if it ever existed.


I disagree with Joel and Donald. Firstly, I don't think that seeing something in a shop tells you much about how it sells, or how much people actually like it once they bring it home. Unfortunately, what gets someone to purchase something is different from the value they get out of actually using it.

More importantly, if features get in the way of someone using the device (or website, or whatever) then it's a bad experience. Knowing which features to bring upfront, and which features to highlight, sits at the heart of creating good customer experiences. Features are extremely hard to cut. They are very hard to hide. The best experiences know enough about the customer to include the key features upfront, and hide the rest for the power users.

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