Simplicity is overrated


I just came across Don Norman’s (author of Design of Everyday Things) essay of the same name via a Joel Spolsky post. It gives an interesting perspective on the whole simplicity of design spin.

Why do we deliberately build things that confuse the people who use them?

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

Joel too agrees on this point and als states that simplicity does not mean absence of features, rather ease of use.

I think it is a misattribution to say, for example, that the iPod is successful because it lacks features. If you start to believe that, you’ll believe, among other things, that you should take out features to increase your product’s success.

In fact, some things which are not explicitly touted as features could in fact turn out to be a feature (or highlight) of a product, e.g. ease of use, a clean interface, beauty, aesthetics.

Then again, the “simplicity myth” was stated mainly as a differentiator for products being sold. How applicable is it to products available free of cost? Take for example text editors. We have powerful editors like Emacs and vi which I have tried to use without much success (failure to get over the learning curve), and ended up using something like Notepad++. Would the situation have been reversed had I been paying for them…. I’m not so sure.

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