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Simple and Usable Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design: Remove

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Giles Colborne explains the “remove” strategy, which is about removing distractions to bring focus to your project, including learning what’s valuable to users, focusing your resources on delivering value, meeting users’ goals, and removing the distractions of tiny speed bumps that add to the load on the user.
This chapter is from the book


According to a 2002 study by Standish Group, 64 percent of software features are “never or rarely used.” Take a look at your DVD remote control and count the number of buttons that you’ve never touched. The same goes for almost any gadget or software you care to name. There are plenty of opportunities to simplify by removing.

Removing or omitting features can lead to successful products:

  • Tumblr’s blog service has a fraction of the functionality of sites like WordPress or Blogger, but three years after its launch, it was booming with over two million blog posts every day.
  • The Lotus Elise started life as a back-to-basics sports car with no air-conditioning and a production run of eight hundred. Fifteen years later, it is still in production and tens of thousands of them have been sold.
  • At launch, the iPhone had fewer features than competing phones from Nokia and RIM (makers of BlackBerry), but it was an instant hit.
  • Basecamp, a project management extranet by 37signals, does a fraction of what extranet software like Microsoft SharePoint does, but BusinessWeek described it as “addictively easy-to-use” and it is used by millions of people worldwide.

Conventional wisdom says that more features mean more capability which, in turn, means a more useful product. But these examples choose depth of capability rather than breadth. They’re useful because they do a few things far better than their rivals.

Conventional wisdom also says that products with more features will beat products with fewer. But all of these examples have competed against more fully featured rivals and won.

Removing clutter allowed designers to focus on solving a few important problems really well. It also allowed users to focus on meeting their goals without distraction.

It’s often easy to understand what’s essential: a DVD remote needs a play button and a stop button. The problem comes with things that might be valuable. So, when you’re simplifying by removing, begin with a blank sheet of paper and ask, “What are the important problems?” Then gradually add the features and content that matter most.

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