The spiral of complexity and feature creep – New Yorker article

James Surowiecki has written a nice article Feature Presentation about why companies build complexity into their products and more importantly to you–why you buy into it. People want all the bells and whistles but overestimate their ability to use all the features. The challenge is to make complex things simple.

The fluent UI in Office 2007 is a good example of how MS is attempting to make complex things simple. Sometimes a better user experience it isn’t about creating new features but rather retuning existing features to be more intuitive and easier to use.

Comments (3)

  1. Thanks a lot, Clint.  That’s a very interesting article.  And I love the illustration!

    You mentioned the Office 2007 UI.  As you know, there is a lot of resistance and negativity "out there" about the Ribbon.  It seems that this is about familiarity rather than "bad" (even though some people are saying "bad").  And this is in keeping with Surowiecki’s article.

    But there’s something that Surowiecki left out… honesty.  I have been to x number of presentations about Office 2007 where we saw and heard what a fantastic thing the Ribbon is, and all the advantages and reasons and justifications.  But so far, I didn’t see any Microsoft person state that this is going to take some serious time and effort to learn and adjust and get familiar.  I’m not a marketer, but I wonder whether the resistance would be less if people were given realistic expectations.

  2. Thanks for the comment Steve. I know internally, we have been actually suprised there hasn’t been more resistance to the ribbon–sales and deployment are really strong.

    I can’t remember many marketing messages that feature negative aspects of a product. Most people understand that it takes some time to get familiar with it. My wife wasn’t a big fan for the first month but now loves how much better looking her Word and Excel docs are.

  3. tom says:

    Toolbars are extensively customizable by normal people.  Ribbons are not.  Also, we can’t edit right click menus, and you can’t have a set of floating tools right next to your place (form design etc) where you’re working.  These ribbons result in a huge loss of productivity that is not regained with familiarity.  After using the Access ribbons almost daily for a few months now, I really wish that I had the toolbars back.  Ribbons may perhaps work well for Word, but they are really a huge step backwards for Access.  

    I still have to look under several tabs before I find what I need.  Previously, I could create custom toolbars in seconds, that gave me exactly what I needed.

    And just how DOES one get rid of that ugly "Fluent" interface and the Office button.  I want to determine the appearance of my Access app.  I don’t want MS do do it for me.

    I vastly prefer the Visual Studio dockable toolbar/tabbed interface over Fluent.  "Fluent" = Big Mistake, IMO.  Ribbons might work OK for Word/Excel, but don’t work at all for Access developers.