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Make those products 'easy'

Supplier: Bortz Product Design By: Gary Bortz
18 June, 2013

People like easy. People like simple. People like comfortable. So why do so many things we experience on a daily basis seem to be the opposite? We have companies whose sole marketing strategy is to provide more options and features than the competition – even if they cannot be understood or accessed

We have companies whose sole marketing strategy is to provide more options and features than the competition — even if they cannot be understood or accessed

I once worked for a major appliance company that insisted we have 19 programs in the washing cycle. It did not matter that you could only start the cycle in three places, the dial had to display all 19 steps the wash went through (the competition had recently upped theirs to 18). It was very confusing and frustrating for the customer who tried to set the machine to one of the other programs.

Most people are not rocket scientists and even if they were, wouldn't it be better if there was one big red button that you had to press for launch?

I am not saying that we should over simplify products, take away choice or the ability to customise, or modify experiences — but the way we create a product needs a lot of thought.

Things need to be easy and easy is actually very hard to achieve. It means we need to have thought through all possible scenarios and have sorted them logically, culled the superfluous, promoted the important and made it very clear what happens along the way. We need to refine the entire experience to make it easy. Yes, make the default setting simple, but don't hide the "options" so well that the experience becomes difficult (yes, Microsoft, you know who I am talking to).

An analogy would be 'going out to eat' — this should be an enjoyable experience. We could go to a fast-food place that offers three sizes of burgers, with a choice of three types of drinks. Not many options, but if you are hungry and want a burger, you really don't have to think very much — the choice is very simple. 

But what if would like a really good plate of food? Let's go a little more upmarket and visit a good restaurant. To help us, we speak to the nice waiter and are guided to the easy options first — the specials of the day. If there is nothing there that we like, we move on to the full menu. Once we have found something there, the waiter helps us customise the experience even further by letting us tweak the settings on how well it is cooked or what side order can go with it, all the while offering explanations and advice on how to get the best meal.

As designers we should also be striving to create this experience for all of our products. Along the way we should be looking at the products we are asked to design and sometimes question their very existence. Is a product that notifies us of an incoming tweet or email by releasing a smell really necessary? Do we need the product that keeps our Facebook status and location continually updated so that our followers know when we are on the loo?

If they are, then we need to make a really easy "suspend when" setting.