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Less Is More in Design

Simon Barker
8/8/2013 10:05 AM EDT

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PC99
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A touch of the Steve Jobs
PC99   8/8/2013 10:48:40 AM
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I think I can see your Mac tendencies shining through.

Sometimes more features mean more applicability, which means a broader market, the possibility of higher volumes at lower unit prices, and the virtuous cycle that follows.

If you limit something too much it COULD become too niche, pleasing too few customers to ever be manufacturable at an affordable price.

So this has to be a case of the devil is in the detail.

What do others think?

Is this an ecumenical matter?

 

 

Caleb Kraft
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
Caleb Kraft   8/8/2013 1:42:24 PM
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It really depends on your market I think. If you want non-tech people to adopt your tech, you have to make it simpler. If you want techy people to play with your toy, you need to add complexity and flexibility.

There's no debate that more features means more R&D and more quality control issues, but sometimes the audience you're marketing to WANT the choices regardless.

As for the idea of something limited becoming too niche, the same can happen with something too wide open. I think more often, the key to a tool getting utilized is the experience using the tool. Is your market audience going to enjoy using this?

Frank Eory
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
Frank Eory   8/8/2013 1:58:09 PM
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I have to agree, it makes a big difference who your target customer is. For consumer electronics products though, I agree with Simon -- simpler is better. If the consumer needs to read a user's manual to use the product, it is likely that it has been over-engineered with too many features & options.

Susan Rambo
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
Susan Rambo   8/8/2013 1:59:30 PM
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I agree. It depends on the market and the user (a power user vs. a user not so enamored of gadget itself but what it can do quickly). Even so, I would think every user (even the power user) would appreciate the convenience of not having to wade through a complex GUI with a lot of menu items. They all want a clear, easy to use GUI.

Caleb Kraft
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
Caleb Kraft   8/8/2013 2:02:29 PM
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This is why UX design is becoming such an important aspect. These people were laughed at in the beginning "you specialize in designing interfaces?" but now they're proving that SOMEONE should be intelligently designing interfaces, not necessarily letting the "construction crew" do the job. There's a lot of work involved with making a complex action seem simple, or leading people through a confusing process intuitively. 

UX design can make a complicated thing ALSO be a simple thing. 

SimonBarker
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
SimonBarker   8/8/2013 2:29:25 PM
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Very true, in fact simplifiing something complicated can be very difficult but ultimatley worth it if it means customers adopt your product en masse.

rich.pell
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
rich.pell   8/8/2013 3:20:05 PM
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"This is why UX design is becoming such an important aspect."

Agreed. UX design and its concomitant usability testing are hugely important IMO, but are still largely unappreciated if not ignored altogether in many instances.  For example, I wonder how much usability testing Ford did when designing their all-touch infotainment system, which they recently back tracked on?

Charles.Desassure
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
Charles.Desassure   8/8/2013 6:54:09 PM
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@Susan...Susan and the others are correct. It depends on the market and the time that the product is released to the public.   Constraints are very important, but it is just one fact in the process.       

SimonBarker
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Re: A touch of the Steve Jobs
SimonBarker   8/8/2013 2:27:32 PM
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My Mac tendancies probably are shing through although the success they have had (in many consumer sectors) would indicate that there are worse ideologies to follow.

As the others have commented, it comes down to the market and the end user. However, as a user of a complicated semiconductor wafer tester for 2 years I can promise you that even proffessional tools and products could do with some simplification of user experience, if not simplification of features.

Susan Rambo
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The user in us all
Susan Rambo   8/8/2013 2:07:18 PM
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Good points in this article. There's a trend toward convenience and simplicity even in the tools and methods for design electronics. Today's short cuts may be tomorrow's modus operandi.

chanj0
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Simple is better
chanj0   8/8/2013 2:40:16 PM
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Simplicity is not necessarily an attraction. What if Instagram allowed you only take a photo w/o any post processing?


No doubt the market penetration of Instagram is inspiring. I agree with Barker's analysis. The success story of Instagram shall be a good reference to wannabe entrepreuener. One key point that Barker brought up is "we should be thinking like our customer." Engineers are generally smart. They have ability to go through complicate logic and make 10 steps to achieve 1 goal. Yet, regular people doesn't enjoy it so much. They already have a complicate business to run and day-to-day task to deal with. For fun, simple is better. If there is an apps that can deliver a similar feature of a sophisticate application, I am sure most people will jump to it. Instagram delivers. With 2 to 3 clicks, you have your favorite images shared.

Having said all these, we shall not forget the contribution of cats to the success of Instagram. Meow!

 

Caleb Kraft
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Re: Simple is better
Caleb Kraft   8/8/2013 3:22:50 PM
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what you're arguing is extreme oversimplification. Instagrams selling point is the FACT that is extremely simple compared to something like photoshop which is what people would have had to use before.  You're basically saying that if it has NO features it is too simple. Well, obviously. At that point it isn't even a product!

chanj0
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Re: Simple is better
chanj0   8/8/2013 7:53:04 PM
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My argument is "less" is an art. A product can be built to make our life a little easier by simplify the operation to suit most people demands. However, at what point you shall stop the simplification process. For example, how many clicks are necessary to make a photo shooting apps simple enough to use and allow the photographer to add some 'spices' to the photo?

kfield
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Constraints - or lack thereof
kfield   8/8/2013 4:38:50 PM
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Thanks for the post, you raise some key points. The discussion about design constraints reminds me of an interview that I did with one of the lead engineers for the engine design for the Joint Strike Fighter. He said that up until this contract, engineers were given a budget to work with and would always complain, "We can't work with that budget, it's not enough money!" For the JSF, there was no budget given, rather the engineering team had to provide their own cost estimate, based on specs. And guess what? In that case, engineers complained, "No budget? Wait, we can't work without any budget!!"  It would be interesting for you to talk about the art of establishing constraints and the trade-offs and decision-making process around that.

SimonBarker
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Re: Constraints - or lack thereof
SimonBarker   8/9/2013 8:45:09 AM
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I think deep down they probably like having a budget because it limits what they can do based on a cold, hard finance consideration - no budget, while might seem a dream means that the engineers now have to find other constraints to work. These constaints would have to be determined internally which would cause headaches and divisions in the team as it would come down to opinion rather than "hey, that's the budget - there's nothing else we can do"

_hm
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Re: Constraints - or lack thereof
_hm   8/11/2013 8:54:22 AM
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This is very true and apt story in daily product development work. However, adding options and constraints are like addiction to some product developer and it is very difficult to pull them out unless few major failure - of product abandoned on launch pad. This is very costly mistakes and it cost many jobs and less profit.

I would suggest Simon to conduct corporate training for this concept. Once product specifications are defined - that is it. No more change allowed. Thanks again for this story.

 

Bert22306
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User preferences can also change after purchase
Bert22306   8/8/2013 4:39:11 PM
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Just to be slightly a devil's advocate here, I've often discovered that if I buy something with partial knowledge, I want simplicity and ease of operation. However if this object continues to interest me, I invariably wish for those features that the more expensive cousin objects have, but that I didn't think, at time of purchase, were all that necessary.

In short, perhaps it's not just about a techie vs non-techie client. Perhaps sometimes "less is more" works at first, but then the buyer starts craving that "more is more."

SimonBarker
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Re: User preferences can also change after purchase
SimonBarker   8/9/2013 8:30:02 AM
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That's an interesting point, similar to softwares Pro and Basic versions. I'm not sure how you would design hardware in such away but it could provide an interesting ways to catch both sides of the market. I have to say that my main point in the article was on consumer products (TVs, coffee makers, phones etc) but there are cross over products that cover both consumer and proffessionals.

WKetel
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less can be more
WKetel   8/10/2013 9:20:27 PM
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For the very best examples of how an excessive amount of features can turn a product into junk, look at the microsoft offerings over the last 15 years. Each generation of OS is more bloated than the previous one, more subject to all sorts of reliability issues, and in general, less useful and certainly harder to use. All this while being touted as better and more powerful than the previous version.

Remember that when one size fits all, it doesn't fit any that well. I have been making that assertion for many years and it still is true, both for socks, shirts, and operating systems.

zhgreader
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that means small is big?
zhgreader   8/11/2013 9:26:38 PM
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small is big?

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