On Simplicity and Software Design
I have had John Maeda's blog, Simplicity, in my "Read if time" folder since Jason Kottke called it out back in December, but I haven't gotten around to reading it until I had a few spare moments yesterday. Maeda works at the MIT Media Lab on their Simplicity research program (natch).
He writes in the style of a talented professor, weaving entertaining anecdotes into his posts, and generally bringing the anecdote full circle to make some insightful observation about the role of simplicity in our daily lives.
This brilliant post illustrates how the perception of waiting for an application to perform some task can be influenced by a little trickery:
Let's do an experiment, shall we? Below on the left I have a progress bar that elapses for about 3 seconds. On the right, the progress bar carries the same time lapse, but this time with an animation of the progress of time.
What did you find? I certainly was convinced! Less time is felt to elapse in the progress bar on the right. On the left, time messily plops out like ketchup from a bottle of Heinz; on the right, time is gently spread across a slice of bread with a butter knife.
A few years ago, my friend Jeremy told me about how Expedia.com sped up their interstitial "Searching for your flight..." page after getting complaints that it was too slow. It was believable, but didn't really resonate until I saw Maeda's example above.
Maeda's ideas about simplicity will only help me refine my philosophy that simple software design provides a good user experience and results in a competitive advantage for a business. He's not in my "Must read" RSS folder yet, but he's getting a lot closer.