I am a huge fan of simplicity. The simpler it is to use the happier I am with the experience. However, I have also stated that making something seem like less does not necessarily mean you are making it simpler. There have been a couple of great articles this month discussing the role of simplicity in web design and application design.
- Strive for Elegance, Not Simplicity
- Simplicity Ain’t So Simple, Part I: Decide What to Hide
- Simplicity Is Highly Overrated
What I am taking away from these articles is that less isn’t always more and simple doesn’t always mean non-complex. One of the more interesting quotes came from Joel Spolsky’s piece on Simplicity.
Devotees of simplicity will bring up 37signals and the Apple iPod as anecdotal proof that Simple Sells. I would argue that in both these cases, success is a result of a combination of things: building an audience, evangelism, clean and spare design, emotional appeal, aesthetics, fast response time, direct and instant user feedback, program models which correspond to the user model resulting in high usability, and putting the user in control, all of which are features of one sort, in the sense that they are benefits that customers like and pay for, but none of which can really be described as “simplicity.” For example, the iPod has the feature of being beautiful, which the Creative Zen Ultra Nomad Jukebox doesn’t have, so I’ll take an iPod, please. In the case of the iPod, the way beauty is provided happens to be through a clean and simple design, but it doesn’t have to be. The Hummer is aesthetically appealing precisely because it’s ugly and complicated.
I would love to hear 37signals’ response to this since while reading these articles I myself was thinking of the iPod and 37signals as examples that seemed to defy what these experts were talking about. We can’t give every user what they want, but maybe not giving all of them a little something of what they want is even worse.