The Simplicity of Nothingness
I spent the better part of the day talking with customers about an upcoming product. We walked through a set of well-thought-out and detailed mockups that tried to balance education, beauty, ease-of-use, and functionality. It was a great session, but tiring, as you always have to walk through the rationale of balancing the end user goal and the realities of existing products. The customers liked the concepts well enough, and we now have feedback to make the final product even better.
Then they were shown a “prototype” of “the next great thing that will do everything you want it to do, and will be beautiful and easy.” (I put this in quotes because they were pretty much told this.)
This is roughly what they were shown:
The version we showed them was photoshopped to be prettier, but the text and information on the screen was the same as above. (Really. It said “icon” and “modified data”, not to mention that you would never use a pie chart there.)
This is awesome! It’s so easy to use!
I can’t wait to have it!
It really is better than your current product!
(Exclamation marks are real. The rest is paraphrased.)
I sat there in puzzled disbelief. After all, we only showed them a set of boxes. Granted, the boxes had a nice bevel to them and the gray gradients were pleasing, but it didn’t demonstrate any functionality, user interaction, or information visualization. I wasn’t sure how you could have any reaction to it.
Don’t get me wrong. The overall design is a good track for the functionality we are trying to achieve. However, the reactions we received were really inconsistent with the amount of information that we were showing them.
After further thought (and a bit of scotch), I’ve come to a few conclusions:
- Nothing is always easier to use than something. If you want something to be fun and easy-to-use, then make it do as little as possible.
- A blank page lets people dream. And people normally dream happy things. Therefore, try to capture happy thoughts by letting people start from a blank page and see where that leads you.
Or maybe it was just that we always deliver really good stuff, so they just trust that we will get it right.