Tag Archives: simplicity

The Three Design Principles and The Simplicity Myth

We are confusing usability with simplicity and capability with features. This is faulty logic, says usability and ‘cognitive design’ expert Don Norman, and our interpretation of our needs is mistaken: the goal is not simplicity; it is appropriateness, usability and enjoyability.

Suggesting that what consumers really want are frustration-free, capable devices that tame our complexity-rich lifestyles, Norman looks at how the ‘simplicity argument’ is not about simplicity, but poor usability and design.

Once we recognize that the real issue is to devise things that are understandable, we are halfway toward the solution. Good design can rescue us. How do we manage complexity? We use a number of simple design rules. For example, consider how three simple principles can transform an unruly cluster of confusing features into a structured, understandable experience: modularization, mapping, conceptual models. […]

Modularization means taking an activity and dividing it into small, manageable modules. That’s how well-designed multifunction printers, scanners, copiers, and fax machines do it: Each function is compartmentalized by grouping and graphics, so each is relatively simple. […] Learn to do one function, you then know how to do all of them.

Good mapping is essential to ensure that the relationship between actions and results is apparent.

But most important of all is to provide an understandable, cohesive conceptual model, so the person understands what is to be done, what is happening, and what is to be expected. This requires continual, informative feedback, which can also be done in such a way as to be pleasurable: see any Apple product.

Emotional design is critical to a person’s enjoyment of a product, the most critical variable here being the need to feel in control. This is especially important when things go wrong. The key is to design knowing that things go wrong, thereby ensuring that people will understand what is happening and know what to do about it.

The argument is not between adding features and simplicity, between adding capability and usability. The real issue is about design: designing things that have the power required for the job while maintaining understandability, the feeling of control, and the pleasure of accomplishment.

Letting Go of Goals

Designed to help you find focus and tackle “the problems we face as we try to live and create in a world of overwhelming distractions” is focus : a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.

This is Leo Babauta‘s latest book and he is producing it iteratively online. One issue I have is that if there are two current trends that I’m undecided about and feel have been blow out of proportion it’s the minimalist lifestyle and the notion that modern life is distracting.

Regardless, I enjoyed the following from the chapter letting go of goals, describing why we should do exactly that:

They are artificial — you aren’t working because you love it, you’re working because you’ve set goals.

They’re constraining — what if you want to work on something not in line with your goals? Shouldn’t we have that freedom?

They put pressure on us to achieve, to get certain things done. Pressure is stressful, and not always in a good way.

When we fail (and we always do), it’s discouraging.

But most of all, here’s the thing with goals: you’re never satisfied. Goals are a way of saying, “When I’ve accomplished this goal (or all these goals), I will be happy then. I’m not happy now, because I haven’t achieved my goals.” This is never said out loud, but it’s what goals really mean. The problem is, when we achieve the goals, we don’t achieve happiness. We set new goals, strive for something new.

Price Reductions and Cognitive Fluency

If the mental calculation required to determine the discount given on a product is difficult then we often misjudge the magnitude of the reduction.

This “ease-of-computation” effect for judging price reductions is obviously related to other recent studies looking at ‘cognitive fluency‘ and is another way to manipulate and be manipulated through product pricing.

Consumers’ judgements of the magnitude of numerical differences are influenced by the ease of mental computations. The results from a set of experiments show that ease of computation can affect judgments of the magnitude of price differences, discount magnitudes, and brand choices. […] For example, when presented with two pairs of numbers, participants incorrectly judged the magnitude of the difference to be smaller for pairs with difficult computations (e.g., 4.97 – 3.96, an arithmetic difference of 1.01) than for pairs with easy computations (e.g., 5.00 – 4.00, an arithmetic difference of 1.00).

via Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The Influence of Cognitive Fluency

We’ve seen before how the cognitive fluency (how ‘easy’ it is to think of or comprehend something) of restaurant menus, stock ticker codes and physical exercises influence how complex, risky and even beautiful we perceive them to be.

A recent PsyBlog article provides a summary of a number of cognitive fluency studies and here are the ones I’ve not seen before (some of which I wouldn’t have even considered to be related to cognitive fluency):

  • A writer is perceived as having a higher intelligence if his writing is uncomplicated.
  • Non-native residents of a country are thought of more negatively than the natives.
  • Fluent speakers are regarded as being more knowledgeable and intelligent (although it was also found that hesitations in speech cause specific words to be remembered more than others–the word(s) directly following the hesitation).
  • A block of text describing a product can double the amount of people willing to purchase that product if it is written in an easy-to-read font.
  • Physical (sensorimotor) fluency causes pleasure.
  • Cognitive fluency allows us to reason quickly and effortlessly.

The article concludes with:

Like mathematicians searching for the shortest formula to describe a complex phenomenon, we should all be obsessed with simplicity, because in simplicity lies beauty and the human mind, as we’ve just seen, finds it difficult to resist.

Typography, Pronunciation and Cognitive Fluency

How easy something is to read and understand significantly affects how we perceive it in terms of its risk, beauty, difficulty, credibility and truthfulness. Factors that influence this cognitive fluency include typography (typeface choice, contrast, etc.), ease of pronunciation, familiarity and how much the words rhyme.

The cover story of this month’s The Psychologist is an extensive study of this phenomenon, looking at how cognitive fluency affects our judgements and perceptions.

This excerpt illustrates the effect, whereby a set of physical exercises designed to be incorporated in your daily routine were described (emphasis mine):

When they were presented in an easy-to-read print font (Arial), readers assumed that the exercise would take 8.2 minutes to complete; but when they were presented in a difficult-to-read print font, readers assumed it would take nearly twice as long, a full 15.1 minutes. They also thought that the exercise would flow quite naturally when the font was easy to read, but feared that it would drag on when it was difficult to read. Given these impressions, they were more willing to incorporate the exercise into their daily routine when it was presented in an easy-to-read font. Quite clearly, people misread the difficulty of reading the exercise instructions as indicative of the difficulty involved in doing the exercise. If we want people to adopt a new behaviour, it is therefore important that instructions are not only semantically clear and easy to follow, but also visually easy to read – or else the behaviour may seem unduly demanding.

Other findings from the various studies mentioned in the article:

  • When a recipe is presented in an elegant but difficult-to-read font, it is assumed that it requires more time and more skill than when presented in an easy-to-read font. (The authors conclude that restaurants should describe dishes in difficult-to-read fonts. They do.)
  • Print fonts influence whether people make decisions or defer them to a later time.
  • Food additives with complex, difficult-to-pronounce names are perceived as more risky.
  • Amusement park rides were classed as more dangerous if they had complex, difficult-to-pronounce names.
  • A statistically significant number of stocks with easy-to-pronounce tickers symbols had higher yields than those with difficult-to-pronounce ticker symbols.