Are Designers Focussing On Simplicity--Or Do They Love Lots Of Features?

Bruce Nussbaum

A recent conference called on interface designers to pay more attention to simplicity and ease of use, especially for the growing older population.

Here are some quotes:

Panelist B.J. Fogg, a psychologist who founded Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab, summarized the issue by saying that "every possibility you add to an interface increases your likelihood of failure" in the marketplace.

Tim Plowman, a professor who has studied human behavior at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Clara University, addressed the basic issue of convincing designers to devise interfaces that are intuitively accessible to users of all ages and levels of technical sophistication. "It is much, much harder," he said, "to achieve simplicity in interaction design."

Despite the difficulties, however, said moderator Junko Yoshida, news editor of EE Times, ease of use has become a "grave issue" in engineering. Designers, she said, must "listen to the SOS from consumers."

The forum was sponsored by the MIT Club of Northern California and developed by the SmartSilvers Alliance, an organization concerned with technology accessibility issues among the elderly.

Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO, a firm that designs user-centered products and services, noted that older users are slower to adapt to electronic device complexity because older users are more complex themselves, with "more things on our minds." He said, "Among us wrinklies, it's less likely that we'll get it right away, unlike younger people."

It all gets back to desining for your customers, not yourselves. In journalism, we are undergoing a major revolution in deconstructing the forms of stories--print, 3,6, 9 column stories, etc. written by one or two people--to embrace online conversations where the audience participates in the creation of a line of coverage. Technology, open-source and web 2.0 are pushing the same kind of trends in design and innovation. Ditto for business organization.

Thanks to Putting People First for signalling this conference to me.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.