On Simplicity

“Simplicity” has been a popular buzzword this year. Everyone complains about bloatware, and points to the success of the iPod and web applications from 37signals as evidence of a backlash toward a “less is more” development style. The usual argument is that the 80/20 rule pertains — 80% of users only use 20% of the features. Trouble is, people don’t use the same 20%, which means that everyone still wants something different out of the same piece of software. Which is why feature sets look like this. Dylan Tweney has been searching for the perfect, slimmed down mailing list system for his Daily Haiku, and is face-to-face with the dilemma. Joel on Software says simplicity is a false idol, and that in the end, what people really want are the features they personally will use. And giving most users what they want means successful software includes a lot of features most users will never use. I think the real challenge for successful software is not to be simple, but to appear simple.

Music: Trifactor :: San San For Kasan

2 Replies to “On Simplicity”

  1. I think people misundertand the “less is more” mantra. It doesn’t/shouldn’t mean that reducing the number of features makes a product better. Every product needs a core set of features that satisfy the targeted audience. In a Long Tail world, that could be interpreted two ways. One – the 80/20 rule breaks down completely, cause too many people want a specific feature(s). Two – the flip side is that one does not need to satisfy the mass market. If an appropriate niche is chosen then one can choose to develop to that niche (which is something that 37Signals do well). The key is to have enough features to make your targeted userbase happy and do it really well.

    In the end, I always refer Kathy Sierra and her “Featuritis” curve. As a product manager, that was my temple. You don’t want feature bloat, but you don’t want too little there either.

  2. I think it was Alan Kay who said “simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible”. (I know lots of motivational design quotes, the hard part is living up to them!)

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