Saturday, December 16, 2006

Complexity: The New Simplicity

In his 1998 The Invisible Computer, Donald Norman praised simplicity and bemoaned feature wars:

"...The result is technology-driven, feature-laden product. Each new release touts a new set of features. Advertisements proudly list them all, extolling their virtues. Seldom are the customer's real needs addressed, needs such as productivity, ease of use, getting the job done. Instead, the feature lists proclaim technological feats, as if the mere purchase of enhanced technology thereby makes everything else OK. The notion that a product with fewer features might be more usable, more functional and superior for the needs of the customer is considered blasphemous..." (pb. 25)

His recent essay, receiving accolades from Spolsky, Evan Williams, et al., is titled, Simplicity is Highly Overrated:

"...Make it simple and people won't buy. Given a choice, they will take the item that does more. Features win over simplicity, even when people realize that it is accompanied by more complexity. You do it too, I bet. Haven't you ever compared two products side by side, comparing the features of each, preferring the one that did more? Why shame on you, you are behaving, well, behaving like a normal person..."

He concludes: "Yes, we want simplicity, but we don't want to give up any of those cool features. Simplicity is highly overrated."

So is the answer simplicity and fewer features or complexity and more features?

I think the answer is neither. IMHO, this is yet another example of the human tendency of choosing between extremes when the answer is wisdom and choosing the middle path.


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