Its complicated! Nope not the movie but everything else I guess.
I was talking to a lady at the bus stop this morning about how even simple things like the cell phone is now complicated. How some people over-complicate even the simplest processes and how we like to add arms and legs to something that probably is like a one cell organism or simpler.
Is it the curse of the new technology? Is it the expectations that people have from things? Does complexity add value?
Stanton Champion recently wrote We Really, Really Like Feature Bloat (UTest) where he talks about how we want the coolest features over simplicity. When a customer is out there looking to buy a computer, laptop, phone, Internet connection, cable TV, phone services, they really are looking for what all can they get for the money they pay. What are the coolest features out there, what is the latest model, will I get more if I spend a more.
Technology is getting outdated at a faster rate than it used to a decade or so ago. Couple of years ago when you buy a phone, computer or even take television, you would think of long term use of that product, something that lasted forever (well almost forever). But today its not about long term, its about what all is available (features, uses, how latest is the technology) and how fast or cool it is. People buy it with the notion of replacing it a few years or even months down the line.
Don Norman talks about this in his article on Simplicity is Highly Overrated. He talks about how people want more (complex) features for more money. If we look at this closer it does make a lot of sense. Customers pay more when they think they are getting more: more as in more features, complex features, latest technology, more settings, more applications, etc.
Or is complexity really a perception. Do some people really find latest technology to be less complicated than others? My 10 year old son knows more about my cell phone than I do. I go to him for help with settings or to learn about the new features and applications. So for one its real simple and to the other its real complicated. Who defines complexity? Does the 80-20 rule apply here? If 80% of people use a feature then that feature is simple. If less than 20% people use a feature does it mean its harder or more complex?
I think complexity can be attributed to perception to some extend. Once my son shows me how to use a feature in my phone and once I start using it I am more comfortable with it. My perception of how complex it used to be changes. Does familiarity breed simplicity?
Joel Spolsky on the other end talks about how simplicity actually complicates product development and creates ambiguity. People want simple but with everything else along with it. When designing a product we like to think we are making a simple and easy solution, then we add to it all the features that we think the customers want, then add everything that the competition has, then add something extra to make it cool or stand out. What do we have here? I don’t think its simple for sure.
What does all this mean to software development and marketing? Well it means managing perception and adding value so we have happy customers. Happy customers make happy companies and happy employees.