Thursday, October 13, 2005

Less is more--I mean it this time!

I'm happy to report a trend in software application and product design. Simplicity. I've got three examples of successful product types that are not just successful, but winning market and mindshare:

1. The iPod (and the new generation of Macintosh too). I covet my wife's iBook. It's easy to use, powerful, and has all the right tools in all the right places. It can't make life easy enough for her to set it up on our home wireless network with WEP encryption, or set it up to use the HP photo printer hanging off our Dell PC in the closet--but it certainly makes my life easy when I'm tasked with those sorts of issues.

Likewise I didn't know how inviting and fun to use my iPod was until I started trying to navigate and use my Delphi MyFi XM receiver. The latter device has about 50 buttons on its front and I use exactly zero of them. That's right--in the past week I haven't touched a single button on the front of this device. Rather I use the scroll wheel on the side to change channels (and the power button on the top of course). The advanced features provided by the buttons on the front of the receiver may as well not exist. If only Apple made an XM receiver.

2. Google's products. You'll notice a common pattern with Google's "service of the day"--it doesn't have a single feature that isn't necessary. I'm sure there's lots of AOL and MSN folks out there who simply declare Google's new tools devoid of the critical mass of features necessary to make switching worth while. But if you use these tools you realize that the features you really need are all there. They may just be neatly tucked away behind a UI affordance that is so obvious it's hard to see at first. Just as the first Macintosh threw people off because there was no "eject disk" button (rather, you dragged an icon of the disk to the trash can), new users to Google's services might be thrown by its simplicity as well. How do you reorder the layout of a personalized Google home page? You drag the areas on screen where you want them--that's how.

3. Stuff from 37signals (and the Ruby On Rails cult underneath). Visit 37signals and you'll see a handful of simple, sexy applications that, as an MSDN author on Coding4Fun said:

But sometimes less can definitely be more. Enter a small company made up of five individuals that understands this very well: 37 Signals. They've successfully launched three VERY SIMPLE online applications that have made them nearly legendary in the web development community. The secret of their success: carefully targeted applications that leverage cutting-edge technology to make collaboration intuitive through absurdly clean and simple user interfaces that anyone can quickly and easily use. Couple those strengths with a "first hit is free" marketing model to compel users to upgrade to paid services for improved productivity, and it's not hard to see why they've done so well.
You'll find the 37signals apps look and feel an awful lot like some of Google's newest applications. For example, hover over a note on a Backpack page and the edit button materializes into view on the left. Move the mouse away and the edit button goes away.

These products have something in common that make them successful:

1. A razor sharp focus on a specific customer demographic and associated use cases. These are not "kitchen sink" apps that are designed by committee with globs of compromise piled on top. They're highly focused applications. A beneficial side effect being time to market..

2. Easy to use, inviting, good looking, clean user interfaces that support all of the requisite functionality, without clutter and confusion.

These kinds of products (certainly Apple and Google) are dominating the hype market these days. I hope this reflects a coming of age in terms of product design going forward.


Anonymous Andy Polaine said...

Gosh, I hope so. Now we just need to convince those folks over at Microsoft that less is more. I would gladly pay for a version of Word that was simpler in the new release.

And hey, thanks for the link. :-)

4:47 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

By the way, the link has moved now as I moved to Wordpress. You can find it here now.

I've redirected with .htaccess and some other things, but search engines have been messing up on the trackbacks,

3:47 PM  

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