I’ve been working on IT projects for around 15 years now. I have a fascination/addiction to understanding how we consume information and how technology can be used to promote or obstruct that consumption. Nearly everything we do involves some sort of information design, from the little stripes on the street that miraculously prevent our roads and highways from being bumper car arcades to the shape of your mouse to the design of your prescription bottle. (Love Target’s design!) We are information consumers a thousand times a day.
I’m also fascinated/addicted to simplification, from creating the simplest project processes designed to reduce errors to purging my home of extra, unnecessary objects. To me, simpler is easier, faster, more efficient, ultimately more beautiful. I can find items more easily when there are fewer of them. I can identify a project "red flag" more easily when I know where we should be in the project plan. My interest in simplication also feeds into my interests in living a sustainable lifestyle and in my issues with America’s Addiction to Over-Consumption.
Today’s newsletter from Human Factors International is right up my alley. I have a cellphone. It’s 4 years old. It works. It’s fine. It has a wide variety of features that I don’t need and don’t use. I make calls, I answer calls.* I’m good.
The newsletter reports that a 2005 J.D. Power & Associates found that consumer satisfcation with mobile phones has declined, linked to usability issues. Experiments (also fascinating!) by Rust, Thomson and Hamilton (2006) explored the impact of feature richness on consumer satisfaction:
Experiment #1: Mobile phones
– Perceived Capability – The more features a phone had, the higher the participants rated the phones in perceived capability. More features = better!
– Perceived Usability – The more features a phone had, the less usable and more challenging it was perceived to be. More features = harder to use!
Which phone did the participants want to own? The product with the most features. Not surprising, since our society values Bigger, Better, More, over simpler, greener, less.
Experiment #2: Digitial audio/video players
In this experiment, it was found that experience with the product made a difference in the participant’s evaluations. Before using the feature-rich product, capability was the driving factor. After using (and perhaps struggling with all those nifty features), usability became the paramount factor. (Seemed great … until they actually had to use it.)
The newsletter also cites some other interesting tidbits:
– The BMW (the newsletter has a typo: BWM) 7 Series iDrive system includes more than 700 features. The car comes with an instruction sheet in the glove box to instruct the valet on how to park the car.
– Mercedes-Benz has removed more than 600 functions from its cars; seems that all those extras caused problems in other critical electronics.
In our drive to add more-more-more to everything we experience, we unnecessarily overcomplicate the simple, unadulterated beauty of life. I’m not interested in downloading the latest, greatest ringtone, when I can simply sit in the sunshine in my patio garden and listen to the birds sing and the plants rustling in the ocean breeze. God has provided us with so much natural beauty that doesn’t require complicated electronics to enjoy. I don’t own an iPod or a Walkman for my morning walks; the sounds of nature are more wondrous and I’d much rather be connected to earth’s delights. I don’t need a TiVo; I have a simple VCR that meets my simple needs. If I miss a program, it’s OK. Simple is beautiful. Simple makes me happy. Simple is satisfying. Simple enriches my life.
*I don’t always answer my cellphone. OK, I rarely answer my cellphone. If I’m doing something else that I’m enjoying more (even if it’s just drinking a cup of delicious coffee), I’ll continue to do it rather than interrupt my pleasure. I’m a hedonist. Pleasure first. Simple pleasures are the best.