Moggridge said that model, "building a prototype, then testing it out on people," is the most reliable for preventing future ease-of-use problems. Panelists agreed that many contemporary consumer electronics designs, particularly mobile phones, violate this rule. "Designers," said Moggridge, "often forget that they're designing for people other than themselves."
Plowman injected the perpetual problem of "feature creep." He said designers too often fail to "resist the urge to shove that extra little feature that you love, and marketing loves [but] is it adding anything?"
Panelists acknowledged that there are exceptions to the consumer need for easy use. Moggridge said that, in professional settings, complexity is often a positive feature. In the office, workers derive status by mastering complex devices. "We feel proud that we've gotten past a barrier of difficulty," he said.
Among the most dramatic exceptions to the ease-of-use imperative is Japanese consumers' embrace of the intricate i-Mode platform for mobile phones. It requires that users, armed only with their thumbs, scroll through a myriad of options on tiny screens to perform an almost infinite number of functions ranging from text messaging and video downloads to vending machine purchases.
The latter example, however, reveals the limitations of complexity, even for patient Japanese consumers. Moggridge showed a video clip of one of his Japanese assistants attempting to extract a can of tea from a vending machine. The multistep process, which required accessing an e-mailed bar code, outwitting a spam filter and eventually providing the machine with a "cash deposit," took more than 30 minutes.
Yoshida, the moderator, said she detects a growing movement toward greater simplicity in consumer devices, specifically aimed at older users, or at any user lacking a half-hour to buy a Coke with a cellphone. "I would like to think that's a growing possibility, but there is an engineering sensibility that always says, 'More is more'," Fogg lamented. "Simplicity wins eventually, but I don't think the best user experience is the initial winner always."
If there is a solution beyond convincing designers to "simplify, simplify," said Moggridge, it might lie in the concept of "Web 2.0." The next level of Internet access will allow users to "go, converse and manipulate" complicated technologies at their own pace, without the need to depend on software or hardware solutions specifically designed for a client device.
But the final word might have been provided by an audience member who noted, "It's there. You can't avoid the complexity."