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Strategic insights
Making it Hard is Sometimes Better

Written by on November 7, 2006

Within the usability community we constantly hear the mantra "make it easy", but lately more and more products are made too easy for their own good. Take something like Apple's Remote. It is incredible easy to use, but at the cost of essential functionality. Just a few more buttons, and a few tweaks to the interaction would make it much better.

Easy of use must never come before making something that works - even when that means making it harder to do.

The nail

To illustrate this let's take a look at something non-digital - the nail.

The nail was invented a long time ago and from the start it was a very simply "device" to use. It requires little effort, it is very cheap to make, and its purpose is straight forward. But, it doesn't work very well.

The problem with nails is that they have little grip. If you hammer two pieces of wood together it is likely that they will come apart over time. It was made too easy and too simple.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

- Albert Einstein

The Screw

To solve the problem a smart person invented the screw. This was a revolution as it solved the problem if lack of grip. But, from a usability point of view it was a disaster. In terms productivity it was even worse, and it costs a lot more money to make.

But, They had to make it right and thus the screw had to be invented. It was not choice - it was matter of getting the job done.

You need to do the same

When you are making websites, web applications or even regular applications you need to get it right too. Solve the goal, and then you can work on making it better, easier and fancier.

Do not mistake this for just making it technical or otherwise complex - those applications does not get the job done either.

Again, look at the screw. Compared to the nail it isn't easy to use, but it is still a very simple tool. And, over time it has been improved considerably. The first type of screws was the slotted screw (above) which was somewhat difficult to use.

Then came the Phillips drive design which solved many of the problems with the slotted screw, but unless you had the 100% correct driver for it you can easily could damage it. Thus someone invented the Prozidriv and lately we have seen the Torx drive design - which is a revolution in itself.

The point is; get the job done, that is always your number one priority. Your second concern is everything else - technical finesse, graphical fanzines, or ease of use.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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