I liked this illustration of the Knowledge Gap in Jared Spool’s recent newsletter article, Riding the Magic Escalator of Acquired Knowledge.
To close the knowledge gap, you either ride the user up the escalator via training, or you bring the target knowledge down the escalator by simplifying the design. Those are really your two main choices, 99% of the time!
My favorite (and also alliterative) quote from Mark Hurst
in his most recent Good Experience newsletter, outlining
three overlooked lessons about the iPad.
(He and Rob Foster appear to be very much on the same page…)
Yesterday on the way home from work, I listened to an interesting podcast from LDS Radio’s “Everything Creative” series. It featured an interview with Doug and Laurel Hatch, creators of the non-profit Mormons Made Simple site and owners of the for-profit company Stuff Made Simple. The interview and the sites offer an interesting angle on simplicity, usability, creativity, the downside of overly polished work, online missionary work, and people taking initiative to “do good.”
“Something is elegant if it is two things at once: unusually simple and surprisingly powerful.”
Also from the same article by Matthew May.
What, in your experience, fits this definition?
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
Jazz composer and bassist, Charles Mingus
When Rob Foster, Todd Ericksen and I went to Washington DC to attend a Tufte Conference we made a point to stop by the Vietnam Vetrans Memorial . It was just after twighlight and there were only soft lights illuminating the memorial. The dim lighting set the mood and invited you to look harder to see the detail of the names. You couldn’t help but to find yourself touching the stone and feeling the names of the fallen as you walked along side the memorial. We went to several other monuments and memorials and heard tourists chattering and even yelling, and then to come to this one and hear only the wind in the trees was a very spiritual experience. You were compelled to whisper and show reverence for the hallowed ground on which you walked. As close to the feeling of the temple as I have felt outside of those walls.
This memory was brought about by a link from Cameron to the Interactive Vietnam Veterans Memorial A great way to interact with the wall and see the actual names if you aren’t able to see them in person. The ability to add photos and stories to each name is another great method of making it a very personal experience.
(Art is “Vietnam Reflections” by Lee Teter)
Josh Porter effectively summarizes the conflicting points of view about the trade-offs between simplicity and feature-richness in Simplicity: The Ultimate Sophistication . Then he tries (pretty effectively I think) to argue that “We want simple decisions [in this case simple purchase decisions] as much as simple products.” Packaging and UI that communicates whether it will meet user needs is just as important as ease-of-use. Relates to my earlier quandary about choosing between Remember the Milk and Ta-da List ; apparently I’m not alone in hating to make those trade-offs. (By the way… I ended up going back to Ta-da after all; ease of sharing won out over mobility.)
Check out picnik. That is one impressive flash app. Great first-time user experience. I love the big, attractive, clearly labeled buttons, the undo, the flickr integration and the simplicity. Not only online apps can learn from this, but some desktops apps can too.
“It’s easy to confuse success with quality… . But we shouldn’t confuse the success of feature-laden [garbage] as a signal for the irrelevance of simplicity any more than the success of Rocky IV and Burger King signaled the irrelevance of good film-making or fine dining.”
Scott Berkun, In Defense of Simplicity
“It is better to have a document whose unified character gives it its own dignity and presence than to have a pile of visual odds and ends, each calling attention to itself in a deafening babel of competing typographic voices. Besides, the subject matter ought not to depend on visual cosmetics to fascinate the reader.”
Jan V. White in Graphic Design for the Electronic Age
“The truth is simplicity can’t be determined by how few items are on a Web page. Simplicity, like most elements of design, needs to be evaluated in context.”
- LukeW, one of my favorite design thinkers
“May all our designs (the common) be refined, worthy, wealthy, and, yes, elegant.”
Dan Saffer, in Strive for Elegance, Not Simplicity
Luke W throws a 1-2 punch with Packaging Design for Web-based Products over at Digital (you get to work with Gilbert Lee?!) Web and The Complexity of Simplicity at the very purple UX Matters. Read them or die.
“Confusion and clutter are failures of design, not attributes of information.”
Edward Tufte in Envisioning Information
“Be innovative. As we work to magnify our callings, we should seek the inspiration of the Spirit to solve problems in ways that will best help the people we serve. ... The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard
“The home is usually the ﬁrst battleground that comes to mind when facing the daily challenge of managing complexity.”
John Maeda, from The Laws of Simplicity
“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
A few days ago one of my esteemed colleagues (I haven’t even checked to see which one yet) posted the good ol’ adage “Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.” While I know it can sometimes help us manage scope and deal with the fact that some things are just plain complicated, it can also result in software that sucks.
In my days at Microsoft, I had a program manager who would cite this maddening little phrase at least a couple of times a month. I would run a usability test showing users banging their head on the desk while trying to accomplish a core task, and he would come back with, “Yeah, it’s complicated, but it’s possible.” Great – but if users can’t find a feature, it doesn’t exist. If they can’t figure it out, it’s worse. If they tell their friends… you can forget Version 2.
So, while acknowledging that sometimes it’s difficult to boil complex things down into manageable chunks -
While conceding that there are multi-step processes that can’t be automated or condensed -
While freely admitting that it’s often better to put out the software NOW rather than waiting to perfect it -
While confessing that I have not always practiced what I am about to preach -
Let me unequivocally advocate that “Simple things should be simple, and complex things should be as simple as possible.”
Thanks – now descending my soapbox.
I recently ran across a diagram that showed the “orbit” of the planet Venus around the Earth. Sure, we all know that the planets go around the Sun, but for thousands of pre-Galileo years, the Earth was the center. It’s very simple to draw, explain, and show the orbit of the planets around the Sun, and we all understand the concept of heliocentricity without a problem. It’s simple, The Earth goes around the Sun, the planets go around the Sun, we’ve got it.
However, if you try to describe, or draw the orbit of the planets from a geocentric perspective, it can be quite difficult. There is a pattern, it does repeat, and it actually creates a nice design, but it is very complex to illustrate and explain.
So it goes with design, sometimes you need to change your perspective in order to visualize the solution in its most simple form. Sometimes you need to find ways to help your users change their perspective so that they can see the problem from your perspective. Sometimes your users are already visualizing the problem from the simplest perspective, and you change it, or redesign it to work from your perspective.
As designers it’s our job to visualize things from different perspectives, hunting down the simplest, and most elegant solution, and bringing that to our users.