Complexity verus simplicity ( WAS: Motorola Motofone User Experience)

7 Dec 2006 - 12:31pm
7 years ago
7 replies
602 reads
John Schrag
2005

I wrote:
> ...I'd love to be able to find a
> cell phone that isn't burdened down (and made too complex) by hosts of

> features I neither want nor need nor use.

Josh Viney replied:
>...why build a phone that has to be a pure phone and can never be more
> than that? Why not build a phone that starts off as a simple phone,
but
> can grow with users as they demand more functionality?...

I love that idea. One thing I've always hated about software is the
unending feature creep. For the first few years, each new release has
great new things that everyone needs. But once the developers have hit
all the main points, later releases get features that appeal to fewer
and fewer people, while adding complexity for everyone else. I used to
love Microsoft Word, up until around version 3. Now I can't use it for
more than a few minutes without yelling at my computer in frustration.
I wish I could still buy Word with version 3 features only, but updated
to run on the new machines, save/load new file formats, etc.

At UPA this year, a researcher from Samsung (Dongseuk Lee) gave a
presentation on the topic of feature creep, with lots of examples from
the cell-phone world. Forces that cause it, how to fight back, etc.

I'd love to be able to buy simpler, low-featured versions of software,
and then add on additional features as needed. New releases of the core
software would focus on improving stability and ease of use among the
core features.

Apple is doing something similar with iLife (simple versions of more
complex software), and Adobe with things like Photoshop Elements. but
as they do additional revs of these low-end packages, I wonder if
they'll be able to resist the siren song of feature creep and keep them
clean and simple?

-john

Comments

7 Dec 2006 - 4:31pm
Josh Evnin
2005

I'm assuming "software like that" means software that you can buy that
offers the simplest needed funtionality, but that you can also extend to
have more personalized features. Am I right?

I think I'd love that model as well...

The problem as I see it, is that most applications don't grow organically.
Rather, new features are added simply for the sake of having a "next
release." So in addition to changing, redesigning, and perhaps even
simplifying a user's interactions with a product, the design team constantly
feels the pressure to add more and more features. Hence, the ever-present
nag of feature creep.

As a designer, I see it as my role to simplify a software tool so that it
does everything that people would expect from it, and not necessarily
anything more. In most cases, the more and more features we add to a piece
of software, the harder it is for people to really get a sense of exactly
what the tool is meant to do, and it becomes increasingly difficult to
create elegant, intuitive interfaces for functionality as well.

When it comes to the example of the mobile phone, I want the tool to be
first and foremost a telephone. That means that every single time I want to
make a call, the tool should support me in doing so, and should never stand
in my way. This interaction alone can use some redesign on most mobile
phones. On my phone, for example, when I'm out of a service area, the phone
lets me dial and press send, only for me to wait with the phone up to my ear
for minutes and minutes for the phone to connect to a tower...and that's
only one among many potential interaction problems with the core feature of
any mobile.

Why aren't design teams more apt to improve current functionality to support
users, rather than adding video, time scheduling, memo pads, to do lists,
count-down timers, voice notes, shopping carts, etc. in each subsequent
release of a tool?

Josh Evnin
http://josh.ev9.org/weblog/

On 12/7/06, Josh Viney <jviney at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> You want software like that? Let's get some people together and build it.
> Seriously, there's no reason not to.

The ability to organically grow applications over time or "widgetize"
> applications based on user demand for features is one of the most powerful
> features of using the Internet for distribution. Persistent World
> Massively
> Multiplayer Online Games have been leveraging similar features for years
> with remarkable customer retention rates. It's a huge contrast to brick
> and
> mortar shrink-wrap distribution methods. In the olden days, companies
> needed
> to "measure twice cut once" because there was no reliable way to
> upgrade/patch software. It was all about creating complete products not
> services.
>
It's not the case with Web based applications or solutions that leverage the
> Internet for distribution. We can develop, change, redesign, fix, add
> features and distribute software to millions of users in a matter of
> weeks.
> Got a bug? Have a developer fix it and redeploy in a matter of hours. Not
> a
> problem. Want to work with 3rd parties? Develop an API and you're on your
> way. Sell it as a service not a product and you're looking at interesting
> potential for revenue and customer retention.
>
> This applies to the mobile as well. If Motorola can build a $20 phone that
> has downloadable ringtones, can't they build one that has a downloadable
> calendar, games, music player, or any number of branded or 3rd party
> developed applications? I bring it up, because they can and they do, just
> not with this phone. That's the disappointing part.
>
>
> - Josh Viney
>
>
>
> >
> > I'd love to be able to buy simpler, low-featured versions of software,
> > and then add on additional features as needed. New releases of the core
> > software would focus on improving stability and ease of use among the
> > core features.
> >
> >
> > -john
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
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--
http://josh.ev9.org/weblog

7 Dec 2006 - 4:58pm
.pauric
2006

Josh wrote "If Motorola can build a $20 phone that has downloadable
ringtones, can't they build one that has a downloadable calendar, games,
music player, or any number of branded or 3rd party developed applications?
I bring it up, because they can and they do, just not with this phone.
That's the disappointing part."

A music playing app would require a headphone jack and a memory card slot.
Additional apps would require more cpu cycles and flash, plus the
development and maintenance of a SDK for 3rd parties as an addtional NRE
cost.

There is a direct correlation between features and COGs. If this is indeed
pitched at developing markets then the $20 entry point means very a limited
hardware platform and therefore limited software capabilities.

Somewhat related, this year's winner of the Nobel prize for economics
'microfunded' many women who purchased a mobile phone and went in to
business reselling time on the phone to other members of their communities.
Do they need downloadable games and calendars?

Only people with computers can sync their calendar, photos, mp3's and if
those people own a computer they can well afford a feature rich phone.

7 Dec 2006 - 11:00pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I'd love to be able to buy simpler, low-featured versions of software,
> and then add on additional features as needed. New releases of the core
> software would focus on improving stability and ease of use among the
> core features.

I started thinking about this a couple years ago as a Flash developer.
I used to build lots of extensions for Flash, and I kept finding
myself thinking how great it would be for a whole app to be built that
way.

Eclipse is a great example. It's essentially nothing more than a
framework with a bunch of extesnsions. Once you get the IDE going, you
just install whatever extensions you want and you're off to the races.
When you need more, you install more.

It's a brilliant model, I think. Build an app with a core feature set
and focus all your efforts on improving the core features and building
extensions. Users could pay for the extensions as they need them, and
you have a model that lasts. This could also be tied to an account, so
when you switch to a new machine, you just download all your
extensions again and you're up and running.

Why doesn't anyone do this?

-r-

7 Dec 2006 - 11:39pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> Why aren't design teams more apt to improve current functionality to support
> users, rather than adding video, time scheduling, memo pads, to do lists,
> count-down timers, voice notes, shopping carts, etc. in each subsequent
> release of a tool?

Because people buy software based on feature lists. Sad, but true.
They have nothing else to go on, so they buy based on a list of things
the app can do. It all sounds great until they start using it for a
while and realize the app is difficult and frustrating because it's
packed with crap they don't want or need and it's all getting in the
way of the simple app they were promised when the marketers stamped
"easy to use" on the box.

An extension-based model could bypass a lot of this.

-r-

8 Dec 2006 - 12:57am
LukeW
2004

Here's some research I've been digging into that backs that up:
http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?433

On Dec 7, 2006, at 8:39 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> Because people buy software based on feature lists. Sad, but true.
> They have nothing else to go on, so they buy based on a list of things
> the app can do. It all sounds great until they start using it for a
> while and realize the app is difficult and frustrating because it's
> packed with crap they don't want or need and it's all getting in the
> way of the simple app they were promised when the marketers stamped
> "easy to use" on the box.

::
:: Luke Wroblewski -[ www.lukew.com ]
:: Principal/Founder, LukeW Interface Designs
:: luke at lukew.com | 408.879.9826
::

8 Dec 2006 - 3:11am
Richard Czerwonka
2005

On 7 Dec 2006 at 12:31, John Schrag wrote:

> I'd love to be able to buy simpler, low-featured versions of software,
> and then add on additional features as needed. New releases of the
> core software would focus on improving stability and ease of use among
> the core features.

I've actually been doing this for few years now. I wasn't following any particular method
but one day it just made sense to me.I don't write shrink wrapped software by the way,
it's all custom work.

I used to put everything into one huge single executable file. This becomes really
difficult when your source reaches the 150,000 to 200,000 lines range. You start to
become overly concerned with little changes affecting other unrelated parts of the
application. So one day I decided to break all the bits up into little individual programs,
initially just to see what would happen, but now I plan to keep doing it that way. It's great
to be able to mess around with a program knowing that any changes won't mess up the
other programs.

The first thing people see when they start up one of my applications is a simple list of
programs they can use (I've found that people like things in lists for some reason). I give
them the option of reordering the list, and even removing little used programs from the
list. If a customer has a special request for a program, I can add it to their list. That
particular special program won't be seen by anyone else, and I don't have to mess with
the core programs to add these special, customer specific features. If I do make any
changes to any of the core programs, I just email the changed programs to everybody
who needs it (another advantage of individual programs is that they are now quite
small).

=================
Richard Czerwonka,
Delphi Programmer
ENT Technologies
Mob: 0412 104 042
=================

8 Dec 2006 - 6:31am
.pauric
2006

Nice article Luke... "participants preferred to have CD players with 21
features to ones with 7. But if they first used the 21-feature player for a
while, they preferred the 7-feature one."

In general when you are making a purchasing decision you look for the most
ROI. Usability is not something thats easy to evaluate as that is part of a
longer term experience. Customers purchasing low end consumable goods make
snap decisions based on bang for buck. Marketing and Sales depts have known
this for a long time, one of the reasons for feature creep.

Motorola could potentially be ahead of the game in realising that people are
done with overly complicated feature sets and are addressing the need for a
stylish, low cost yet easy to use device. Or to put it another way, users
today have a better appreciation of usability based on bad experience and
will start factoring this in to the purchasing check list.

Quality versus Quantity

On 12/8/06, LukeW <luke at lukew.com> wrote:
>
> Here's some research I've been digging into that backs that up:
> http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?433
>
> On Dec 7, 2006, at 8:39 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:
>
> > Because people buy software based on feature lists. Sad, but true.
> > They have nothing else to go on, so they buy based on a list of things
> > the app can do. It all sounds great until they start using it for a
> > while and realize the app is difficult and frustrating because it's
> > packed with crap they don't want or need and it's all getting in the
> > way of the simple app they were promised when the marketers stamped
> > "easy to use" on the box.
>
>
>
> ::
> :: Luke Wroblewski -[ www.lukew.com ]
> :: Principal/Founder, LukeW Interface Designs
> :: luke at lukew.com | 408.879.9826
> ::
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
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>

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