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Whenever someone begins to talk about «Usability» you can time the few seconds for them to come up with «simple». For some not-so-strange reason, people think that a «good interface» equals a simple one. Mark Zuckerberg, tyrant-dictator-for-life of Facebook, responded to criticism about FB’s terrible management of privacy with “simpler controls”.

I don’t want to comment on the FB privacy issues (for that, you should as always consult danah boyd, maybe here and here). My pet-peeve right now is the idea of «SIMPLE».

And i was reading Lost Finale reviews and my whole point just vanished from my mind, so i’ll just give you the bullets and you can read a sidetracked maybe promising-but-how-to-continue-? explanation after the “read more”.

  • Simple interface means you take processing away from it: Therefore, you degrade the user input instead of extracting from it.
  • The illusion of simplicity comes from orthogonality — but creating orthogonality is hard and can only be done through adding methods and never by sheer cutting.
  • To strive for simplicity is to search marketing slogans. A consistent design comes from grasping the full picture — even if you do it instinctively.

A good interface is not a simple one. In fact, i suspect simplifying an interface is always a bad thing. It is almost a “by definition” issue here, so let’s give some definitions. If we define {good interface: an interface that is simple} the matter is moot, but i believe that a much more reasonable one is {good interface: an interface that permits both sides to benefit}.

As you can guess, my idea of a good interface is all about symbiosis: One plus one bigger than two.

But that goes against a lot of perceived facts about computers. I could go on and on about that, but as i have other stuff to do today, let me cut to the chase: Life with computers is not the same as undigital life plus some gadgets.

The idea of the «simple interface» assumes that the human part of the equation is already set, that one already knows what he wants to do, and furthermore that there is one way to do it, remaining to the “interface” just to connect the dots, take “user want A” to “algorithm A” and “want B” to “function B”.

Life with computers, though, is a completely different game. Each piece you add to the game changes the whole circumstance — just as it happens in life. Life with the printing press was a completely different issue, or with the steel blade, or even with microwave popcorn. Such unwarranted abstractions as «simple interface» obscure the issue instead of helping us understand.

So, again. Symbiosis. First help the user, sure, but also help the computer do it’s thing. That’s why input devices are so important, for example. Making a meaningful cooperation is not enslaving the computer to the user, but rather making the user+cpu system more powerful.

Simplifying the interface means making it less complex. Which means making it use the same behaviours (…)

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