Thursday, December 28, 2006

Simplicity on complex things

There is a big wave of thoughts on the word "simplicity" as referred to the way product managers and designers think a new (or rethink an old) mobile phone, game platform, software, a tool... a widget. A thing.

What's the simplest word to say "a thing that can be used"?
In Italian, I would say congegno or coso. Everybody would understand me, given he/she knows Italian.
I bet you don't understand the word. Because you lack the knowledge to interpret the verbal signal, which your brain would have linked to a conceptual model, something "you know".

Simplicity is a matter of "I already know that, it's simple!".
When our brain encounters a new thing, it tries to map it to something known. That is to say, it starts a matching procedure, just like the one that makes me look like certain celebrities :)
After matching a model, Mr Brain keeps going refining the identification process by finding differences and specifying further features. (You are probably thinking "This is generally valid, but you can find a lot of examples which do not work this way." Exactly what I meant :) )

Therefore, if you want simplicity look for already seen things. Look for something natural. Even if there is a really innovative technology that you cannot live without.
If you want innovation please do not try to justify its complexity as a necessary by-product of innovation.

In my experience, I have to say that the real challenge of technological innovation is to make the technology unseen. We are overwhelmed by acronyms -I have the special gift of inventing a new one each day :)- and useless bits of false knowledge that we call "technical jargon".

That's why, in my personal (and professional) opinion, one way to make VoIP live long is to kill VoIP as we've seen it so far. The technology is not always "under the hood", and fighting with proxy configuration and NAT traversal issues is not acceptable for the average user(note).
Therefore, solutions that sell the thing of calling via Internet "as is" are going to die.
On the other hand, solutions that provide you with a "virtual personal assistant", a "calling privacy shield", a "doorbell for your site" (like our Sitofono) are going to be more successful just because they can be understood and matched with something known. Secondly, they will be valued for what they are, but this is a second step. You cannot value what you don't understand, do you?

I've some thoughts about "features" and "simplicity" that I want to discuss with you, but I prefer to write them on a separate post, and with some time to digest this long one. :)

Note: as Steve Krug says in "Don't Make Me Think", his bestseller book on web usability, "the actual average user is kept in a hermetically sealed vault at the International Bureau of Standards in Geneva" :))

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