Simplicity is Not Overrated, Just Misunderstood

12 Sep 2010 - 4:51pm
3 years ago
19 replies
1727 reads
uxmovement
2010

This article is a response to Don Norman's column article from Interactions Magazine. The article disproves Norman's point that simplicity is highly overrated and that users only buy products based on complexity and features, and provides a more accurate and substantial point of view.

read the article » Simplicity is Not Overrated, Just Misunderstood

Comments

12 Sep 2010 - 8:05pm
Jarod Tang
2007

I generally agree with "simplicity is Not overrated", but disagree with "Usability and user experience design is all about making things simple and easy to use" from your argument.  Usability & User experience is about enabling better using experience in innovative way,  to raise the UX to different level. It's not majorly about making things simple or easy to use for this sake. Simple and easy to use is after the innovation, which is the major focus or designers.Norman is just a little bit mixing the innovation with more features. Better design is not about more features as well, it's about ux at different level, then as simple as possible at that level.

Br,Jarod



On Sep 13, 2010, at 6:04 AM, uxmovement wrote:

This article is a response to Don Norman's column article from Interactions Magazine. The article disproves Norman's point that simplicity is highly overrated and that users only buy products based on complexity and features, and provides a more accurate and substantial point of view.

read the article » Simplicity is Not Overrated, Just Misunderstood [1]

(
13 Sep 2010 - 12:47am
Jared M. Spool
2003

Actually, it's pretty well researched that when given choices between products with fewer features and those with more features, consumers will almost always purchase the ones with more features.

I highly recommend you read the Harvard Business Review article: Defeating Feature Fatigue. It gives some really good background on this research.

With this in mind, Don's conclusions aren't that far off.

13 Sep 2010 - 3:05am
Javier Cañada ·...
2004

Norman's premise could be wrong if we don't assume that features and simplicity are opposites. Not only Apple proved that, also Braun, Bang & Oluffsen or Wolkswagen, to name a few. These brands understood that people want to be empowered by technology but don't want to trade for simplicity.

Think of the windshield wiper. It's a feature cars have (all of them now). You want your car to have it but you don't want to have to think about it. Better let the sensors manage it. Same goes for heating or air conditioning: first ones didn't have a thermostat: you decided that you wanted hot air in a certain intensity but you had to start/stop it. Then thermostats made it simpler: you just say which temp you like and the thermostat does all the work, it's power with simplicity and it's a must now.

I see Norman's view with sadness. It seems to me like he is giving up. Being that pessimist he sounds like "guys, let's just assume there is not much to do here and let's go with the flow". I really don't see progress in that path.

-- Javier Cañada Vostok - www.vostok.es

On Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 8:09 AM, Jared M. Spool wrote: > Actually, it's pretty well researched that when given choices between > products with fewer features and those with more features, consumers will > almost always purchase the ones with more features. > > I highly recommend you read the Harvard Business Review article: Defeating > Feature Fatigue [1]. It gives some really good background on this research. > > With this in mind, Don's conclusions aren't that far off. > > (

13 Sep 2010 - 12:18pm
uxmovement
2010

They aren't that far off, but they're still off. Off is off no matter how you put it. His conclusions are incomplete and misleading.

Yes, people buy products with lots of features. But there are just as many who buy specialized products with less features that do one thing very well. It depends on how well defined peoples needs are.

If his conclusions were well researched he would've studied consumers who bought specialized products with less features and offered insights to both types of consumers. He only offers one, which is incomplete and misleading.

21 Sep 2010 - 4:46am
John de Vet
2010

I doubt there are "just as many" consumers who have well-defined needs. Is that opinion or fact?

13 Sep 2010 - 6:36am
Dimiter Simov
2006

I believe the simplicity/complexity thing is a matter of design and implementation.

The Harvard Business Review article, mentioned by Jared, says: " The problem is that the more features a product boasts, the harder it is to use." It  is not necessarily true. A product with more features is just a product with more features. This is where design comes to play. If the many features are well ordered, easy to find, easy to undersnand, and easy to use, then there is no problem. In fact, a product with more features can be more usable and simpler than a product with fewer features. Google's predictive search has more features than Bing's non-predictive search, yet, it is easier to use - you just type.

Often, it is easy to confuse many controls (or buttons) with many features. Many controls does not mean many features. The sense of complexity comes from the way the featire is presented and operated. My car has a feature: ability to maintain the speed that I set (cruise control). The feature comes with 5 buttons: one to enable/disable the feature - set the car in cruise control mode, one to turn it on, one to trun it off, and two to increment the current speed up or down. What I need is one button: press to turn it on, press again, to turn it off. The implementation of the feature in my car is bad design. Or maybe, it is exactly what Norman says - make the product such that it looks as though having more features.

I agree with the point made by anthony in Simplicity is Not Overrated, Just Misunderstood that "if they [people] can­not clearly define what their needs for a prod­uct are, they will choose the more com­plex prod­uct with more features". I will add that sometimes people do not have a choice - the market does not offer simple products. I have personally tried to purchase a cell phone that is just a phone and does not do anything else. I am still looking.

13 Sep 2010 - 1:02pm
gone3d
2010

I understand the points of view and agree with the observations, but what I don't really understand is why not have both.  Simple design, clear, elegant functionality paired with advanced features can live in the same box.  The original article makes it seem as though the consumer/user doesn't have more than an either/or option: being left confused with too many options or left wanting more.

13 Sep 2010 - 1:37pm
DerrekRobertson
2010

Dimiter, I share in your quest for a phone that is nothing but a phone. For everything my iPhone does, all I really want is good reception, text/email/twitter, and maps. If there's one company that can deliver it, it's the company that wants UX designers most. They're Nokia, and they're in the news lately. [1]

Nokia's new CEO (who's formerly that of Macromedia) says "he will focus on the 'user experience' since one of the bigest complaints against Nokia is that it's smartphoens don not have user-friendly designs for connecting to the mobile Internet". [2]

If Nokia is serious about gaining back it's brand's appeal in America, I submit that it should consider that one way to compete with smart phones is to launch a flagship phone that is not a smart phone, like the one you and I want, Dimiter. (smartr phone?).

From my perspective, such an anti-iPhone could be very big for Nokia, who want to reclaim their market share by focusing on UX. Aside from making a simple useful thing, here are my ideas for Nokia:

  • Go after tribes that don't buy the iPhone with all your might. Lead them to glory.
  • Do build a lineup of hifi ringtones and sign celebrities to exclusive twitter feed to phone deals. 
  • Don't attempt to do the web on the phone, the open web is dead, or will be dead upon your product's debut.
  • Do make it easy to manage your settings with a web application you can run from your desktop or iPad.
  • Do sell people on using a more professional camera setup than iPhone can ever be.
  • Trust that there is a market for what you're making.

Let's do this Stephen Elop! Who's with me?

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/technology/11nokia.html

[2] http://moneymorning.com/2010/09/13/stephen-elop/

 

 

13 Sep 2010 - 10:11pm
DerrekRobertson
2010

anyone? anyone? Bueller?

13 Sep 2010 - 11:53pm
RichExperiences
2010

Fascinating discussion. First off, Derrek, I am not sure what you are after. The simple phone you want makes sense at some level, but then to wish it had fancy ring tones, Twitter feeds, web configuration, etc. Seems contradictory. Oh, and please don't take this personally, but the phones you are after are sold today... only to the over 70 crowd. (don't hit me) :) Ok, this is going out on a limb, but here goes. I was starting to think that iPhones are actually more complex than other "smart phones" that employ 6-8 buttons. The reason being that the other phones and their app designers are compelled to use these buttons for their labeled purposes. E.g. Contact button for address book, web sphere for web, etc. On the iPhone there can be infinite numbers of designs for these things from within various apps. I realize that many times the design frameworks guide the look and feel of many features and therefore consistency, but it seems like the lack of physical features of a device can force features into software where they can take on hundreds of different incarnations. The volume slider comes to mind, player controls, etc. Am I way off base? Rich PS when are we going to get the forum rich text entry boxes to support ipads?? Just asking. :)

14 Sep 2010 - 1:03pm
DerrekRobertson
2010

I'm talking about making a dope ass phone yo.

14 Sep 2010 - 3:40am
ivyclark
2008

Here's how I'm seeing this discussion - simplicity vs complexity and single-function vs multi-function.

Simplicity does not mean only having a single function; and likewise, a multi-function device/application doesn't have to be complex.

"Consumers will almost always purchase the ones with more features." because we're after the flexibility and convenience they provide. There is a greater market demand is for products that offer rich features - is it the benefit of getting more out of the dollar or the promise of flexibility that drives us? Possibly both.  Also, why buy multitools? Why not get each tool separately? Because it's handy and convenient. iPhones and smart phones are definitely more feature-rich than mobile phones from 6-10 years ago. I remember needing to carry a PDA and a mobile phone with me all the time, and I couldn't surf the web without my laptop; but now, thanks to these feature rich phones, I no longer need to :)

Flexibility and multi-function will always comes with certain levels of complexity.  Successful designers take that into consideration and make things appear simple although there are lots of underlying complexities and features. We succeed when we strike that optimal balance between single/multi-function and simplicity/complexity. And what is 'balanced' for one product, may not necessarily work for another.

14 Sep 2010 - 5:53am
Chris Collingridge
2007

Interestingly, what I haven't read anywhere in the discussions is a simple fact: people talk. Recommendation has always been a vital way for people to sell products - and tools like Net Promoter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_Promoter) focus on the business value of recommendation.

Increasingly, it is easy for people to talk to one another and make recommendations - through review sites, forums, ratings on Amazon, etc etc. So what people think about your product *after* they buy it becomes influential on what people think about your product *before* they buy it - and probably before they ever speak to someone from your company or walk into a store (if they ever do). And - as the HBR paper discusses - ease of use is much more important to people after they purchase a product than when they are making their initial buying decision, when feature lists (or visible complexity) provide a solid, transparent method for product comparison.

In the business software world, where products have traditionally be hidden from users until they've actually purchased them, this increasing transparency provides great opportunities for good user experience to be a contributor to business success, and for poor UX to be a detractor.

 

14 Sep 2010 - 1:10pm
DerrekRobertson
2010

Well put Chris. If I might add something, I'd say that while good UX deserves "recommendation" and word of mouth, it is probably receives it less than it deserves because as we all know, the better something is designed, the less people notice the design.

16 Sep 2010 - 4:20am
Giles Colborne
2009

I agree with Chris, my take out from the HBR paper was that, yes, features demonstrate capability. But long-term, usability counts and customer satisfaction and word of mouth go from there.

People trust word of mouth - from people like themselves - far more than ads and promotional material.

17 Sep 2010 - 5:52pm
David B. Rondeau
2003

 

This is the same comment I posted to the article that started this whole thread, but I think it is also relevant here:

It seems to me that there is one crucial distinction that isn't being made throughout this discussion. When people say they want something "simple", it can mean two different things. It could mean that they want a product that has less features or it could mean they want a simple experience. These are very different things. I can buy a product because it has minimal features—but that doesn't mean it will be easy or simple to use. I can buy a product because it has many complex features—but that doesn't mean it's difficult (or not simple) to use. These are two distinct and different concepts. 

A product can be perceived as simple because it has less features compared to other products. The experience of using a product can feel simple (or easy to use) because there is less hassle and confusion compared to what I expect or am used to. So the real problem is that we don't have a shared understanding of what we mean when we use the word "simple". In many of the conversations I've seen on this topic, here and elsewhere, people are clearly using it to mean different things—without realizing it. We present and argue our opinions with each other, but it's like we're not really in the same conversation. Issues don't seem to get resolved and it's hard to reach a consensus and move forward. 

So the next time you find yourself using the word "simple" in a design discussion, think about what you really mean. I'm not claiming it'll change the world, but it will probably make that design discussion a little more fruitful.

It's funny—even the word "simple" isn't so simple, is it?

 

24 Sep 2010 - 9:05pm
subimage interactive
2004

David,

THANK YOU for saying what I've been thinking for a long time but haven't verbalized.

I'm so sick of hearing everyone preaching "the way" to design web software today is to make it do one thing and one thing only. While that's certainly a valid approach I think there's an equally valid approach that offers the customer a rich feature set coupled with the same clear interface.

Obviously one approach is more challenging than the other, which probably accounts for the loudness of the first school's message.

http://subimage.com http://twitter.com/subimage

On Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 5:27 PM, David B. Rondeau wrote: > > > This is the same comment I posted to the article that started this whole > thread, but I think it is also relevant here: > > It seems to me that there is one crucial distinction that isn't being made > throughout this discussion. When people say they want something "simple", it > can mean two different things. It could mean that they want a product that > has less features or it could mean they want a simple experience. These are > very different things. I can buy a product because it has minimal > features—but that doesn't mean it will be easy or simple to use. I can buy a > product because it has many complex features—but that doesn't mean it's > difficult (or not simple) to use. These are two distinct and different > concepts. > > A product can be perceived as simple because it has less features compared > to other products. The experience of using a product can feel simple (or > easy to use) because there is less hassle and confusion compared to what I > expect or am used to. So the real problem is that we don't have a shared > understanding of what we mean when we use the word "simple". In many of the > conversations I've seen on this topic, here and elsewhere, people are > clearly using it to mean different things—without realizing it. We present > and argue our opinions with each other, but it's like we're not really in > the same conversation. Issues don't seem to get resolved and it's hard to > reach a consensus and move forward. > > So the next time you find yourself using the word "simple" in a design > discussion, think about what you really mean. I'm not claiming it'll change > the world, but it will probably make that design discussion a little more > fruitful. > > It's funny—even the word "simple" isn't so simple, is it? > > > > (((Pleas

23 Sep 2010 - 3:59pm
Eugene Chen
2004

I think a web context is radically different than other product contexts here.

In traditional hard or even software products, the customer gets a description of a product before they use it. In a web context, they are frequently intermingled.

If a website is too complex, if attempts too many features, the very presentation of those features begins to reveal the potential complexity. Even the marketing itself can be a turn-off. I belive this is behind the suceess of many well-focused websites. Mint and Google come to mind. It is as if there is a "scent of simplicity".

At my company we have been very successful with a simpler version of one of our core products. It's true, marketing something that has less features has been a challenge. One technique that has worked, is that in certain situations we simply route a user into the simpler product (bypassing the choice or any marketing) and users have been very satisfied.

My point is that in the web world, the marketing and experience of features is often collapsed or combined in more complex ways than traditional "back of the box" feature bullets.

 

Eugen Chen

http://www.eugenechendesign.com

User Experience | Research, Strategy and Design

24 Sep 2010 - 6:53pm
Eugene Chen
2004

Wanted to add: many web experiences are free to get started and thus have very low switching cost.

If users find a web experience is too complicated or there are features that there are unecessary features they aren't using - in many cases a competing site is just one registration away. e.g. if eBay is too complicated, next time try craigslist. Users don't have to make a long-term commitment to a purchase decions as they have had to with traditional products.

 

Eugene

http://www.eugenechendesign.com

User Experience | Research, Strategy and Design

Syndicate content Get the feed