Monday, April 09, 2007

K-I-S-S, my ass

Does the "Keep It Simple, Stupid" principle have it wrong?

Could be, according to Don Norman, who's been cited numerous times here. His recent article, Simplicity Is Highly Overrated, seems to argue that the K-I-S-S principle should be replaced by something like the K-I-S-B-M-S-I-L-C-E-S-T-I-F-B-A-M-P-D-S Principle:

"Keep It Simple But Make Sure It Looks Complicated Enough So That I'll Feel Better About My Purchasing Decision, Stupid"

The point he wishes to emphasize (located in the addendum) is that "people are not willing to pay for a system that looks simpler, because it looks less capable." In other words, systems that look more complicated seem capable of doing more, which positively effects the desire to purchase.

Josh Porter offers a great summary and commentary in Simplicity: The Ultimate Sophistication. Here's an excerpt:

"When users don't understand the advantages of each feature, such as when a user is buying her first digital camera, they are much more likely to avoid making a trade-off by choosing the feature-laden product . . . When users choose a feature-laden product, they may not be exhibiting a desire for complexity. Instead, users are anxious about predicting their future needs. Norman states it plainly: 'the truth is, simplicity does not sell'."

For UCD practitioners, these could be interpreted as "fightin' words" that run contrary to the principles that guide our profession.

What strikes me, though, is that neither Norman (in his essay) nor Porter (in his commentary) explicitly takes into account the age factor, which will kick in very soon when the aging boomers predominate the purchasing market.

Given the advances of the last few decades, the coming generation of seniors is probably less likely to be intimidated by new technologies. But to what degree will this be offset the various degenerations that inherently accompany aging (cognitive processing, decision-making, motor skills, peripheral vision, etc.)? Does the visibility of extra controls, or an overall high-tech look, carry any weight at all when it comes to forking over their hard-earned retirement allowances?

For these users, simplicity may indeed sell.

I think of my parents (both in their upper 60s), who, when shopping for a new appliance or gizmo, repeat the phrase "All I want to be able to do is . . ." an awful lot and are turned off by anything that they perceive as being beyond their ability to operate. What's more, they have very little motivation to learn, especially if "all I want to do is (watch TV, wash clothes, whatever)." Are they really unique to the coming generation of seniors?

To his great credit, Norman wants only for his essay to be understood, and the addendum does a good job of clarifying his intended point. However, sweeping statements such as those made in the essay cannot be fully understood until all relevant issues are included. In this respect, my humble opinion is that Norman has come up short.

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