Dan Norman writes that “simplicity is highly overrated” and asks whether you would buy an equivalent product with less features for the same, or more, money.
Dan is a usability expert and although says that while he prefers simplicity and what I would call “poignancy” in design, most purchases are not based on the premise of being “just right”. The article is a good read, but I think he misses a swathe of well selling products. He details various things like washing machines and other white goods (although lots of the same issues apply to software) but completely misses any discussion of personal electronics, and how long can one talk about design in that area without mentioning the ipod.
When the ipod first came out it was a very poor cousin to a great deal of its competitors in terms of features, let alone the number of controls. It could play fewer music formats, it stopped you from powerful management of your music, it didn’t even have a radio! Yet it sold incredibly well and very quickly got to the same point in the public consciousness that the Sony WalkMan did where a single product’s name became synonymous with a whole class of devices.
The ipod was not cheap. Nor, despite its simplicity, did it *look* cheap, which Dan seems to be suggesting is inevitable. It was excellently marketed, but it was also just a really good product with the entire user interface (what there was of it – not even a radio remember, let alone picture-viewing or other features that other mp3 players had at the time) being very simple to use.
Adding features is the “simple” way to try and boost the cost and sales of product (or a piece of software) but making “simplicity” the key feature that makes it worth more is pretty hard to beat in the long run.