Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Simplicity - Another View

As usual, I enjoyed reading Joel Spolsky's blog entry about yet another hot topic: simplicity in software. As Joel explains, it's kinda hip to produce really bare bones software, and offers a voice for why this isn't a good thing.

It's a really good read. If you want to know more though, I'd suggest you pick up a copy of The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by Alan Cooper. In this book, Cooper explores another form of simplicity (and lack of features) in software.

Cooper suggests that a well designed piece of software should have an emphasis on being designed right, and should not compensate for poor (or no) design by simply layering on features.

For some applications, like say Photoshop, this probably doesn't hold true. If you use Photoshop (or emacs for that matter), you want the kitchen sink and then some. But for other applications, like say your music player, fewer features is probably a good thing.

Consider the screen I get when I open up Windows Media Player:

The most immediate options to me are: Now Playing, Library, Rip, Burn, Sync, Guide. None of this means a dang thing to me, and I'm a geek by trade. I can't imagine what my mom must think when she opens up this program. I'm sure these are all important and useful features - but I just want to play my music, or watch a video.

What Cooper explains in his book is that simply cramming features into an application doesn't make for a quality user experience. Instead, the right features, and fewer of them should be included. This, in the end, will make for a higher quality experience.

Cooper's form of simplicity isn't easy or cheap to attain. Though it is the kind of effort that produces the iPod and the like.

As I said, read the book - it's all in there.

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