Usefulness Is the Greatest Feature of All

on June 22, 2012
Reading Time: 2 minutes

“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”

– John Maeda from his book The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life

Years back Palm had a slogan I liked quite a bit. It was a slogan but also a vision statement for the kinds of products they wanted to make. The slogan was simple, elegant, and truly useful. A few months back I wrote a column on how Apple turns technology into art. I dove into some of the psychology behind creating objects of desire and how things that are beautiful are more often than not useful.

On Wednesday our latest team member John Kirk, wrote a terrific column contrasting the philosophically different approaches that both Apple and Microsoft are taking with tablets. The key message from John’s column was that simplicity is king. I tend to agree but I would add that what we perceive as simple is actually being perceived as useful.

I remember the first time I got my wife to switch to the iPhone. She is the first to tell you that she is not tech savvy, in fact she hates most technology especially printers. She has never been much interested in computers mostly because she wasn’t comfortable on them–yes even Macs. But the first time she used the iPhone, and started really using it, I remember vividly that she never said it was simple, rather she kept proclaiming how useful it was.

Technology at its best is packaged up and designed to be useful to its owner. What is useful may very well differ between segments. For example those who like to tinker and control more of the technology the own may define usefulness differently than someone who is not a power user and finds technology generally scary or unapproachable. For some more is more and for others less is more. This is fine and to each his own, however, I would contend that there are more humans out there who prefer simplicity over complexity.

Creating something complex is easier than creating something simple. Simple solutions require sophisticated technologies. However, to create something simple I don’t believe you start with the goal of simplicity. To create something simple you need to focus on creating something useful. Simplicity leads to usefulness, and as I stated in the beginning, usefulness is the greatest feature of all.

Consumers aren’t turned on to technology products because they are simple. They are more interested in them being useful.