What is a simple product?

by Giuseppe Lanzi on 05/02/2013

On more than one occasion we have agreed that simplicity is a crucial element of a successful app. But what does simple mean? Although it might seem like a concept we can take for granted, to better understand its meaning, we must ask ourselves “what constitutes difficulty?”.

I recently came across an interesting article on cognitive overhead, that is, how many logical connections or jumps your brain has to make in order to understand or contextualize the thing you’re looking at. The farther the user’s understanding is from the application context, the larger his overhead will be, that is, the harder it will be for him to use the application. But what are the things that the user might not know?

Looking for an answer, we find two types of difficulties, caused by a lack of two types of knowledge: about technology and about the application.

Technological knowledge helps us understand the technical implications of application functions, which we need for example to know when to send data to the server, how to import a photo from the camera roll, how to print a product PDF from the application, etc. Application knowledge on the other hand helps us understand the process, for example knowing whether we need to make an invoice for every product ordered or just issue one for all the products.

So when designing an application we can tackle the problem of “simplicity” on two distinct fronts: on the one side, by reducing the technological knowledge needed to use it, and on the other by making the process more intuitive. While there’s a lot we can do to simplify the technical aspect, we can’t make the process intuitive to someone who doesn’t already know it, because intuition can only derive from previous experience.

When designing the application we try to follow the rule that “everyone has to be able to use it”, but perhaps we should interpret this as “everyone who understands the process must be able to use it.”

We mustn’t fall into the trap of being all things for all people.

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