Why Being Simple Is Better Than Being Simplistic
We’ve all heard about the value of imbuing our products with simplicity. And there’s truth that the more complex a product is under the hood, the more difficult it is to make the user interface simple.
David Lieb, co-founder of Bump, has a great article on TechCrunch that explains how most people overlook the key aspect of simplicity—cognition. While the number of clicks and feature-counts are easy to measure, they are an imperfect reflection of simplicity.
Although being simple is a product virtue, being simplistic is a product vice. Simplicity sells, and Florin Cornianu provides several examples of user-friendly tech products. However, Joel Spolsky notes that providing minimal capabilities does not equate to simplicity, and he further cautions that minimalism, although great for new products, is not sustainable.
Don Norman asks this question: “Would you pay more money for a washing machine with less [sic] controls? In the abstract, maybe. At the store? Probably not.” On the surface, these are contrasting viewpoints, but there is a way of looking at this phenomenon where the two viewpoints are not inconsistent but rather nuanced.
Anthony T, founder of UX Movement, argues that simplicity is misunderstood, and that the key thing is to recognize that users want both “more” and “easier”—it is a false dichotomy to force a choice.
Yes, it is harder to create a simple-to-use design when the product does more stuff, but the last decision you should make is to remove (valuable) functionality in order to increase simplicity. That would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Instead, focus on reducing the complexity of your current capabilities—as long as you have already focused your product on solving the problems your users want to solve.
There’s a difference between easier to use and does less. Removing a capability from your product doesn’t make your user’s life simpler—the problem doesn’t go away, just your solution to it. Now you’re forcing your user to use two products instead of one to solve the problem. This attempt, while simplifying your product, won’t simplify the solution for your users—it actually makes it worse.
As a product manager who knows that a product needs to be simple to succeed in a market, how do you specify that as a requirement? Take an outside-in approach, which focuses on making the solving of the problem easier instead of taking an inside-out approach, which makes your product a less-relevant part of the solution.
Remember, your product is NOT a solution—it is a tool that your customers hope to use as part of solving their problems.