When is it too simple?

Too Simple?

Yesterday I got to hear John Maeda speak at Sabre as part of the Wundermind series of speakers. I’ve read John’s book (The Laws of Simplicity), and really enjoyed it. He gave a great presentation – it’s rare to hear someone who really gets both technology and design (and he’s met Paul Rand!).

So when is simple, too simple? A great quote near the beginning of John’s book reads: “Imagine a world in which software companies simplified their programs every year by shipping with 10% fewer features at 10% higher cost due to the expense of simplification.” Maeda uses the iPod as an example of a product that has succeeded with this model. I also see this in the iPhone. As a new iPhone owner, I’ve been able to discover some great ways Apple’s removed features, without diminishing the experience, and simplified the iPhone UI.

As part of a User Experience department that supports products that are 10-20 years old, you can imagine the complexity that has crept into the products over the years (and most of those years were without a Designer’s touch!). Every year new features are “needed” to keep-up with the competition and look good in a comparison matrix. As someone who strives to simplify UIs, and create great experiences, I’ve learned a thing or two from the iPhone.

The iPhone has really delighted me at every turn. I’ve read a lot about what people feel was left out of the iPhone. I’d like to show how in one case removing a feature, actually improved the experience.

Copy & paste. The iPhone does not have any copy & paste functionality. This always shows up on the list of iPhone “wants”. How can a Smartphone work without it! Smartly, Apple reinvented what copy & paste should be on a phone:

1) Phone Number in a SMS

When you get a phone number in a SMS, it’s blue and underlined. This is the standard click (or tap I guess) to call you see on the web. But, what if you don’t want to call the number? Maybe you want to copy it to a contact, or SMS the number. Added to the UI only on lines with a phone number is a little blue arrow that when tapped shows the most common tasks you would do with a phone number: call, SMS, add new contact, add to current contact.

2) Emailing a link to someone

Sharing is built into the phone, no need to copy and paste. When you’re on a page just tap “share” and a email is started for you! In this case – the traditional method would be: copy link, switch to mail app, open new mail, paste link – that’s four steps reduced to one.

3) Emailing a YouTube link

Same as #2, you’re able to share a youtube link as well.

4) Common address information

The iPhone “knows” you. It knows you from your address book, notes and more.

5) Content from Notepad

It even surprised me by autofilling something I had just typed into notepad!

By looking at tasks people perform on a mobile device – Apple has created a “smarter” device. Something small, that hides the complexity and “just works”. Although I’m sure someone will point out – this is really a “forced workflow” leaving out power users. I think it’s a fare trade-off, simplicity is a feature. Tell marketing to add it to the comparison matrix :-)

Also check out Fellow Sabre employee Stephen Anderson’s 7 User Experience Lessons We Can Learn from the iPhone

2 thoughts on “When is it too simple?

  1. “Tell marketing to add it to the comparison matrix :-)”

    Hahaha! That is the perfect line! I totally agree. How are you approaching clients that are ultra stressing the matrix though? I am currently designing a UI interface for an Affirmative Action application for Peopleclick, and after months of interviews and studying, they still won’t listen about trimming things down.

    The approach I finally got them around to was just creating an express interface, but I think this is just more weight. Instead of being able to integrate fantastic features like you listed above, I’m just creating an alternate path.

    Dunno, I’m not 100% happy, but I guess its a bit better. How do you approach stubborn clients such as these? Great post all around!

  2. Just read your (recent) post on when is it too simple? Maeda is my hero and I just recently purchased a copy of the Laws of Simplicity book – and that’s saying something because I don’t buy books anymore. I try to do all my reading from the library. But this one really got to me – had to snag a copy of my very own. How did you get Maeda to Sabre for that series? Do speakers come in regularly and if so, how could a non-Sabre-type like me get in on something like that?

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