4 May 2008

Joshua Porter on simplicity as a design goal

Be the first to share

Joshua Porter
Joshua Porter, a user interface designer, wonders whether simplicity is a bad design goal, and expresses his ideas in a thoughtful post.

Most designers place simplicity above all else. We value simple things because they do all the things we need easily and none of the things we don’t. Simplicity is harmonious. Even Leonardo Da Vinci said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” This is one of my favorite quotes, and it plays on the idea that being simple isn’t banal, it’s elegant.

Don Norman recently ignited a discussion about simplicity in his piece Simplicity is Highly Overrated. He observes that although designers treat simplicity as the ultimate goal, many consumers, when faced with a purchase decision, choose complexity instead. He uses examples from shopping in South Korea: people there choose complex, feature-laden electronics and SUVs over simpler ones. Norman says that people choose complexity because they assume a complex product is more capable.

Porter rethinks the discussion as not one about simplicity but as one about the psychology of trade-offs:

Users face a trade-off when they must make a choice between a simple product or a complex product with more features. If they choose the product with fewer features and eventually need some functionality that is missing, they’ve made a bad choice. However, when users choose the complex product with more features, they don’t have to make this trade-off. The complex product is more likely to have the feature users may need in the future.

People are reluctant to make trade-offs because they can’t predict what functionality they will need in the future. Choosing a product with fewer features is a trade-off that could hurt them down the line. When users don’t understand the advantages of each feature, such as when a user is buying her first digital camera, they are much more likely to avoid making a trade-off by choosing the feature-laden product.

When users choose a feature-laden product, they may not be exhibiting a desire for complexity. Instead, users are anxious about predicting their future needs. The black/white distinction of “choosing complexity over simplicity” seems too blunt an instrument to describe the behavior we see from users. Schwartz’ theory suggests that people in this type of situation don’t know enough about the features of a product or their own needs. The result is that users avoid making a trade-off by choosing the one that looks like it has more features.

Read full story

Be the first to share
22 October 2016
[Book] Org Design for Design Orgs
Org Design for Design Orgs: Building and Managing In-House Design Teams By Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner Publisher: O'Reilly Media August 2016, 198 pages Design has become the key link between users and today’s complex and rapidly evolving digital …
18 October 2016
Behavioral economics, UX design and insurance
The key to unlocking the insurance industry, writes Richie Hecker in TechCrunch, is understanding behavioral economics. The most successful players in insurance tech, he says, will win by rounding the edges on existing products. "Don’t …
16 October 2016
Study says aggressive drivers see autonomous cars as easy prey
Aggressive drivers are looking forward to sharing the road with autonomous cars as they believe they can cut in front of them easily. This is how Peter Campbell summarised in the Financial Times one of …
25 September 2016
Three new reports on behavioural science applied to policy making
European Commission There is growing recognition that behavioural insights (BIs) – by shedding light on how people actually make choices – help deliver more effective policies and complement traditional forms of intervention. The Behavioural Insights Applied …
18 September 2016
Better decisions by design: applied behavioral science
Can we design a decision aid that gives us health information we need and counters our biases so that we end up more knowledgeable and confident in our preference? This is the challenge that …
18 September 2016
Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesanovic on the home of the future
Jasmina Tesanovic (previously) and Bruce Sterling did a residency at The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD (San Diego, USA), working with the students on design fiction and futurism. The residency …
5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing
The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to "transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and …
4 September 2016
Cognitive bias cheat sheet
Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment. Buster Benson has tried to arrange the rather exhaustive lists of cognitive …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to “transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and to turn those insights into strategy.” The article was written by Frank van den Driest and Keith Weed of a […]

29 August 2016
Experientia discussing ethnography and patient-centricity at EPIC 2016

This week Experientia joins our colleagues and peers in Minneapolis at EPIC 2016, the premier international gathering on ethnography and design in industry. The theme for the conference this year is Pathmaking, emphasizing the power of ethnography to create transformative innovation, growth and strategic success for companies, industries and communities. On the second day of […]

22 June 2016
A united energy economy: Experientia helps wrap up the CITYOPT Nice pilot project

Can behavioral change address local energy issues, raise people’s awareness energy consumption issues, and directly support non-profit organizations at the same time? With the Nice pilot of the CITYOPT project, we have seen strong suggestions that it can. It also suggests that the sense of belonging to a local community is a strong motivation for […]

23 May 2016
Experientia white paper: “Conducting clinical trials is about working with patients”

Patient-centricity is one of the defining issues facing clinical trials in the pharma industry. The past few years have seen a growing awareness by pharmaceutical companies of the importance of patient-centricity – but they have also illustrated that not everyone is clear on just what patient-centricity is, or how to achieve it. After using UX […]

12 April 2016
The latest on innovation in Energy Efficient Buildings: annual round-up of EU Commission projects

Every year, the Energy-efficient Buildings (EeB) Public Private Partnership (PPP) publishes the EeB PPP project review – a round-up of energy-efficiency projects that have been co-funded by two European Commission schemes. This year, the print and digital booklet design was done by Experientia, in particular by our talented visual and interaction designer Dohun Jang. Experientia […]

8 March 2016
Behavioral modeling – Shaping cultural change and behavioral evolution

One of the things we do here at Experientia that really sets us apart from other UX agencies is behavioral modeling. Our cognitive and behavioral models go beyond the standard customer journeys and personas (both useful tools, and often preliminary steps to behavioral modeling) to create frameworks that can be used to make people more […]

See all articles