When designing a user interface or doing a usability review of an existing website, simplicity is an extremely important goal. When I get to your interface, don’t force me to spend time thinking. Make it easy for me to do what I want to do.
Like anything else, though, don’t take the drive for simplicity and turn it into an inflexible dogma. Make sure your UI simplification efforts stop before your interface is:
… so simple it doesn’t give users any cues. This is a classic Web2.0 sandtrap – yes, your site looks very modern and clean with one giant button, but what does the button do?
… so simple it doesn’t do what the user wants. Here’s a great example of oversimplification from Tim and Eric Awesome Show:
It’s great – users have expressed frustration in getting calls when they’re at dinner or trying to enjoy a relaxing round of golf – so they’ve taken away the ability to get incoming call. Problem solved.
… so simple that important efficiency gains are lost, requiring users to expend repetitive manual effort. The Cinco Fone example above fits this one as well, but here’s another fun satire from the Onion News Network about the Macbook Wheel:
I’d love to hear any example of websites that you think might be committing one of the three sins of over-simplicity, please add a comment below.
Also, ff the title of this post is familiar, it’s because it’s based on a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein. The actual quote is:
It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
When I was a kid, computers were slow. They had little or no storage, the most reliable connection was sneakernet, and having more than four colors on the screen at the same time was amazing. So the user experience looked a lot like this…
For quite some time now we really haven’t had those same excuses, so why does this video remind you of the point-of-sale system at work, or the database HR is still using, or the software that came with your MP3 player?
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line up of shows has become a real force in pop culture. It’s ratings now demolish late night mainstays like The Tonight Show and Late Show With David Letterman among 18- to 24-year olds (by 24 and 56 percent, respectively)1. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, created by Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis, is an illustrative example of the kind of programming drawing viewers from more traditional fare to Cartoon Network. In the show, animated anthropomorphic fast food items Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad deal with an equally colorful array of enemies, including the alien Mooninites, Inignot and Err. The three protagonists live in a house in New Jersey, next door to Carl, their human and not particularly friendly neighbor.
The show has reoccurring characters but little in the way of overarching themes, continuity, or logic. It commonly employs foul language (although the worst of it is beeped), explosions, and gross-out humor. It would be easy to dismiss it as yet another artifact of the steady decline of western civilization – although that attitude is probably premature. People have been bemoaning the decline of civilization at least since Socrates was put to death for corrupting the youth.2 There is more to this show than a surface reading would betray, and the characters of the Mooninites provide a good example of why.
The Mooninites are very popular among the show’s fans. Proof can be found in online discussion forums – in one, they are voted funniest villains by four out of nine posters.3 The characters were obviously inspired by early arcade and Atari games. Their spaceship, for example, would fit in perfectly in Space Invaders, and the sounds made when they walk, jump, or fire their lasers seem to come directly from games like Pac Man. Their bodies are squared and pixelated, as if they were rendered with limited processing power. The theme of alien enemies descending randomly from space is seen in many classic games, from Space Invaders to Galaga.