Simplicity Rules: The Laws of Product Design and Management

I recently read a blog about simplifying the design of tech products and how to increase technology complexity without frustrating or pushing it away from the users. Users highly value simplicity, sometimes even more so than they think they do. The blog was based on a book called The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda, president of RISD and former professor at the MIT Media Lab. The following are the key takeaways:

The Laws of Simplicity for Product Design and Management

You should advance your product, but don’t necessarily have to upgrade it.

You can have a string of small changes over time and do it in a way that doesn’t entirely alter the scene. This can be seen by consumers as no change at all. On the other hand, a single big jump is harder to hide. This just means that if you want to add a large number of features and functionalities to a product, it’s best to do it gradually over a period of time rather than dumping them on users all at once. This way, users feel more comfortable with the changes; they appreciate them more as the changes don’t seem annoying and life-changing to them.

Keep the core interface consistent.

Apple and RIM are great examples of this. They have kept their user interface consistent over generations of releases. Amazon and Google are other examples too. They have made changes to their pages, but have kept the shopping cart icon, the search box, etc. in the same places, making them seem as if they never changed. The worst case of interface inconsistency was Office 2007 for Windows. Users felt like they had to learn it all over again.

You don’t always have to talk about it.

If the core interface is consistent and the advancements in features are subtle, why not let consumers work out the changes themselves? iPhone has done this very nicely. When its software was updated to version 3, nothing different could be noticed until someone would accidentally place his/her finger over a text, and a little “copy” balloon would appear over it. This told the user that the iPhone now had the cut-and-paste functionality. This news wasn’t delivered in an email, tutorial or in the mail, but was brought to the user very delicately, during the user’s regular course of usage. Hence, with any new feature you add to your product, you don’t always have to state every change to your consumer; in a lot of cases, you will be fine leaving it to the consumer to figure out over time.

Allow users to select what they want to keep.

For instance, Gmail users don’t have to use labels and their folder-like attributes and can simply ignore them if they want to. They can also stick to the old way of downloading attachments, as opposed to opening them in HTML or in Google Docs. People have the option to use these features if they want to and are not forced to do them. Since people don’t like change, technologists should not push their innovations on users, and should let people decide for themselves, so that they can start using the new features only when they feel like they are ready for them.

The above examples are not the only instances of companies that have done a great job in simplifying complex new advancements. There are many more companies that have done well. The four points mentioned above are just meant to give you an overview of what might work better for tech consumers when you are designing a new technology product or marketing one to them.

Faria Rahman
Faria Rahman
Co-Founder

Faria Rahman is the Co-Founder of Treemarc which, uses machine learning to make it easy for businesses to order custom packaging and product nesting in a few minutes. Previously, she was a Senior Associate at Northbridge Financial Corporation, a leading commercial property and casualty insurance management company offering a wide range of innovative solutions to Canadian businesses. Faria also worked at OpenView from 2010 to 2011 where she was part of the Market Research team.
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