The difficulty of simple design – part 2

In my last post about design simplicity, I touched on the difficulties involved in what does and doesn’t make the cut for a design.

Recently I noticed a forum post where one of the developers behind Plex (a really amazing media centre application for OS X) had to defend removing features.  I still think their reasoning is correct, but due to user backlash they decided to put the feature back into the next version.

This is the main reason for feature creep and too many options.  People have different tastes and use products for different purposes.  The problem is, by kowtowing to existing users, you continue to alienate potential ones that you didn’t even realise you were alienating.

So let’s say you have a feature that tests equally well – 50% of your users love it, and 50% of your users find it confusing and difficult to use.  Do you keep it (to satisfy the 50% of users) or lose it (to preserve simplicity)?  What about you have two different versions of a feature that you have A/B tested and each are equally popular in those tests?  It can be tempting to even provide both!

However to preserve a simple design, it’s at this point you need to make a subjective choice.  You need to evaluate:

  • What will be better for the product’s image?
  • What will provide extensibility for future plans?
  • What provides a qualitatively better experience?

For instance — you may be trying to choose between a dropdown list and a radio button.  Which to choose?   A dropdown list takes up less real estate — is that important? Do users find it easier to make a choice if they can see everything all at once, as with a radio button?   Is the list of options going to grow in the future?

As a designer or usability expert, it’s easy to get caught up in always finding the “best” user experience or what the user “wants” most, but it’s important to remember that some aspects to design cannot be measured or quantitatively known.  A simple design will go a long way to giving your design universal appeal and application potential.