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So Simple a Child Can do IT ...


The truth is we aren't really interface design innovators. For the most part we follow design patterns we see working in the wild. But we do test and iterate around acquisition, first user experience, conversion and general feature usability. We use services like UserTesting to get videos of real users interacting with our apps.

Whenever you do this you are struck by how much can go wrong. What seemed obvious to us on the drawing board is anything but to the rube actually trying to use it in the video. And so you get a lot of respect for those that do it right.

But all too often getting it right seems to come down to just doing very little. Just removing capabilities until what you are actually able to do is so rudimentary that it can't possibly be confusing.

Much virtue has been made of this necessity. Apple products seem to embody this philosophy extensively and fans think of it as elegance. But personally I find it stultifying and nannyish. I'm an Android as a result. I'm a tool user and a problem solver, set me free and give me something I can adapt to my needs. By which I don't just mean pick my own color scheme.

Obviously the opposite direction isn't a solution. Piling on features in a cascade of menus and options that take years to learn as Microsoft did for its Office products. But I have to feel there is a middle ground where the design actually helps you to organize a rich feature set into a simple and usable experience that is both feature rich and capable.

This very much reminds me of what Edward Tufte expressed in his great book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. He detests PowerPoint because it is used to turn presentations into extremely simple, bite-size, child-proof, linear marches. He points out and shows how in fact removing complexity in many circumstances effectively neuters the value of the information.

What he suggests instead are a set of design principles that leave the complexity but present it in useful and digestible ways that reward study. The information designs he shows are not simple. They can't be understood in a single glance. But they are so much more rewarding than anything you will see in a Powerpoint.

I think we need a similar set of design principles for user experience design. Ones that don't just reduce all feature sets but rather inform how we present them in ways that are simple to use initially, but that reward study and investment in logical ways. If you have some suggestions for core principles to include, by all means let me know.

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