Jack Dorsey, creator of Twitter and founder of Square, once said:
It's really complex to make something simple.
You'd think that it's simple to build a simple product, right? After all — a simple product does not have much features, therefore there is not much to design or build. Right? No, unfortunately that's not the case. Dorsey found it extremely difficult to make Square's credit card paying app and device simple. Yet it's a very simple product.
The thing is, getting to simple is not simple. It's hard. Knowing how to simplify ' and, actually, crucially, what to simplify is a hard, hard problem. Simple actions that nobody does don't matter. Hard actions that everyone wants to do are good, but vulnerable to simple solutions.
We were curious to hear from our friends, who have developed products we all love and use today, about their experiences dealing with this problem. We asked them the following question: Is it really complex to make a product be simple to use? Here's what they had to say:
It is one of the hardest parts of product design to create a product that feels simple to the user. It means that you, as designer have to think really clearly and carefully about what problem you are solving or what new need or want you are both creating and satisfying. Then you have to do the magic behind the scenes to take the complexity away from the user, and do it in a way that still makes them feel in control — better yet, powerful.
That's the sign of a great product. It feels like it has always existed — like it SHOULD exit. That it just flows.— Dave Sifry, Founder of Technorati, OffBeat Guides
The challenge of distilling a complex set of requirements into a simple, understandable and enjoyable experience is the most important task a designer faces. Among other things, this means creating a consistent design language so experiences in one part of the product make increase comfort and skill throughout the rest of the product.— Kevin Fox, Principal Designer of Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed
It often involves creating an appropriate metaphor for the product in order to tap a customer's existing experiences, online or off. It means placing the most common tasks front and center while keeping the other tasks nearby, where they can be reached but don't obstruct. Most importantly, it means iterating on the original set of requirements, pruning them away, substituting with simpler requirements that fulfill the same needs.
The complexity comes when you have the freedom and flexibility to tackle a lot of problems at once. Then, suddenly, the possibilities are endless. Should you solve this one common problem for this one set of users? What about adding functionality to make X feature more powerful? Maybe a ton more people would use your product if it could do Y.
Few ideas are absolutely bad. Few problems are absolutely not worth solving. The solution space for useful products is vast because people and their problems are vast. At the end of the day, making simple products means ruthless prioritization. You need to say no. You need to not do things because it's cool, or because you can. These days, it's about as hard to do that as it is to live a simple life.— Julie Zhuo, Product Design Manager at Facebook
A simple product or feature is intuitive and efficient to use — i.e. you have no trouble figuring out how to use the product/feature and using it for its intended purpose doesn't waste your time. Delivering a simple product is a function of thoughtful design — depending on the problem being solved, that thoughtful design could result in a simple or complex solution for the intended product or feature.— Arun Rajan, CTO at Zappos
There are some products/features that can only be made simple with underlying complexity but our experience shows that it is possible to deliver simple products/features that are not complex under the covers.
Some of these comments remind us of something else Jack Dorsey said during a Charlie Rose interview last year. He said that the best products are the ones that vanish in the hands of users, where they're not even aware of the complexity under the hood.
What really caught our eye, however, in the influencers' responses was the theme that designers have to say no, mercilessly editing their choices. That's almost a page out of the Steve Jobs playbook, where innovation is saying no a 1,000 things.
We're curious to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Is it really complex to make a simple product? What are some of the challenges you've faced to simplify your products? What have you had to say "no" to in order to make a simple product?