Cranky Product Manager’s “The High Cost Of Product Line Complexity” Vs. Don Norman’s “Simplicity Is Highly Overrated”

From Cranky Product Manager:

Seems that we software product managers and marketers are not so different.  In fact, we are way worse.  If a software company has shipped product for more than 5 years, the product/package/price list probably has 100+ lines, each with its own method of calculating price and with multiple dependencies between items.

And we are thereby annoying the heck our customers. The complexity of our product lines:

  1. Forces repeat customers to spend time they don’t have researching purchases for products that they already know quite well
  2. Increases customers’ workload, by preventing them from delegating the purchase
  3. Makes customers feel like they’re being taken advantage of
  4. Makes customers feel like they’re not being respected or understood.

Seems like common sense…here’s what Don Norman says:

I found the traditional "white goods" most interesting: Refrigerators and washing machines. The store obviously had the Korean companies LG and Samsung, but also GE, Braun, and Philips. The Korean products seemed more complex than the non-Korean ones, even though the specifications and prices were essentially identical. "Why?" I asked my two guides, both of whom were usability professionals. "Because Koreans like things to look complex," they responded. It is a symbol: it shows their status.

Why is this? Why do we deliberately build things that confuse the people who use them?

Answer: Because the people want the features. Because simplicity is a myth whose time has past, if it ever existed.

There’s a certain audience that loves Apple’s pricing model for OS upgrades. And there’s another audience that wants to drive to the price that fits their needs (Microsoft). And they want to be told about every feature that’s in the product, whether they are going to use it or not (Check out BlackBerry’s site if you want a perfect example).

Users want a pleasurable experience, but they want things, as Don Norman points out:

Marketing rules – as it should, for a company that ignores marketing is a company soon out of business. Marketing experts know that purchase decisions are influenced by feature lists, even if the buyers realize they will probably never use most of the features. Even if the features confuse more than they help.

What’s your poison?

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