After an afternoon spent confronting an application from which the third panel could be a screen shot, this rings horribly true.

Even better, in a deeply perverse kind of way, than the wry smile the cartoon prompts, are the 135 comments it has provoked on the post where it first appeared.  The amount of passion unleashed by a simple cartoon is quite remarkable, including some very defensive reactions which are extremely illuminating.  They fall in three main (but not entirely separate) groups:

  • It’s OK for Google and Apple, they can afford to spend vast sums on making it pretty, I had a small budget which just covered basic functionality
  • It’s an unfair comparison – my company needs very structured information, and you can’t get that from a single data entry field, whereas Google and Apple are both single simple functions
  • There’s nothing wrong with complexity in an internal application:  it may be worthwhile investing in learning the complexity if that’s going to make you work more efficiently for several hours a day.

I have a smidgeon of respect for the last of those arguments.  There is something impressive about the unix command line die hards who need just six keystrokes to send their laptops in orbit round the moon.  More generally, systems which allow power users to accelerate through an application rather than slowing them down to some lowest common denominator version are good, not bad.  But that’s not at all the same as saying that users should be required to be expert to counteract the underlying unusability of an application.

There are two ripostes, also to be gleaned from the comments:

  • Just because an interface looks simple, it doesn’t mean it’s not powerful
  • The fact that you can make your internal users find their way through an inefficient and unintuitive system, doesn’t make it a good idea to do so.

And buried deep in the comments, someone quotes the great line from Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

(via Creating Customer Experiences, via Dominic Campbell)