Choose one thing

27th January 2012
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There are many distractions in web and application development and lots of discussion going on about how to manage these. But what is your application’s primary function?

I keep coming back to the car example in my mind. In a car the steering wheel is the primary action. We spend a lot of time telling our cars where to go. If we don’t, accidents happen! The gas pedal comes next, the brake after that, and after that, if it’s a manual transmission, the clutch. These interface elements have affordance with their purpose. The largest element is the most important and so on.

The possibility for adding features to a software application is endless, but the problem then becomes, “what is this thing for anyway?”. We see this problem particularly with applications that have been around a long time, Photoshop, and Excel to name a few. After 10 years, how do you entice more users and keep your existing users? Add features, they seem to say. Photoshop and Excel are too seriously bloated applications.

But choose one thing instead. Simplify. Stay the course. As Esther Goh so eloquently put it on the Young & Shand blog, “Digital Marketer Interviews: Esther Goh of Idealog”:

Anything overly complex. Don’t try to do everything; keep it simple and do one thing well. If you can’t sum up your core proposition in one or two sentences, don’t expect us to pore over it trying to understand it. We want to know what you do and why it’s going to make our lives exponentially better. And if it doesn’t make my life easier…well, I don’t need any more distractions.

Agile Development can be complicated
Agile Development can be complicated

Agile Development and Interaction Design/UX Design constantly struggle with the question, “How do we integrate?” Do a web search and you’ll find there’s many different responses, most of which deal with mashing the two approaches together.

But I say, choose one thing – make a new system that includes the two. Design is too diluted now to make much sense, and therefore it gets cast aside as a “nice-to-have” instead of a “must-have”.

User Centered Design/Goal Directed Design does this fairly well, but it focuses more on the design than the development of a software app. I think both are equally important, just like a car can’t function without the engine. Design of the internal systems is just as important as the external ones.

While working at Orion Health the design team came up with a pretty good system in a dev-heavy environment based on User Centered Design/Goal Directed Design. Interview stakeholders as well as developers to get an overall understanding of the problem, then come up with as simple a solution as possible in demonstrable steps. Then start development.

Know what you can and cannot do, interview the people who know these answers, then design with those constraints in mind.

User Centered Development? Software Design? Both are potential terms. Point is, keep it simple. Design is important, development is important. Just don’t add too many features.

Limits inspire creativity.


Nathaniel Flick

I'm a Front End Web Developer passionate about usability. My primary specialties are HTML5, CSS3, SCSS, LESS, and jQuery and I am very familiar with Foundation and Bootstrap frameworks. I've worked on top of and with Rails, Python, and back end frameworks.