The world has sped up, become more connected and a whole lot busier. As a result, many consumers care more about ubiquitous access to content and communications than having a perfectly full-featured experience. Increasingly, consumers will not spend time using complicated products and services. But, let’s be clear: “simplification” does not mean the dumbing down of product and services. “Simplification” can mean improving – when done right, it’s the process of streamlining products to make them user friendly.
Earlier in the summer, Wired Magazine published an article called “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine.” The piece – which claims that companies will find success in cheap, simple products and services that maximize accessibility, flexibility, and convenience – has been picked up by the likes of The New York Times’ Idea of the Day Blogand TechDirt. The article provides great examples of products that have had fewer features – and lower price tags – than the competition and have subsequently become successful in their markets: the Flip videocamera, the MP3, cloud computing, even the military’s MQ-1 Predator drone. The author – Robert Capps – even explores how “The Good Enough Revolution” extends into emerging services including eLawyering and Kaiser Permanente’s microclinics.
The central argument of the piece – that users’ needs are changing, enabled by technology – makes sense. In today’s busy world, people are willing to compromise quality – defined differently depending on the product or service – and settle for a simpler, less feature-full product. Of course, Capps argues, it’s not quite that simple: the product or service must bear a lower price point, accomplish a baseline goal, and be convenient, or easily accessible, or highly flexible. This premise is an interesting one – and certainly supported by the author’s examples – as it points to an important common theme: In simplifying their products and services, these companies have also increased usability.
Being easier to use than alternatives has contributed to the success, in one way or another, of all of the products or services that Capps mention in the article. For example: The Flip camera’s genius lies in the simplicity of its interface and of operation. Put plainly, the Flip camera is extremely easy to use.
The extremely basic interface – only a handful of buttons! – the integrated USB, and the plug-and-play software for editing, uploading, and organizing make operating the Flip a no-brainer for the average consumer.
Similarly, the success of the MP3 – despite being an extremely lossy format for audio files – has a usability angle as well, though in this case, it’s more about the software and devices that play MP3s than the file format itself. Sure, portability and accessibility have a lot to do with the rise of the MP3 over the CD, but we would argue that usability – as brought to you by Apple – deserves a share of the credit. iTunes’ and iPod’s plug-and-play model, and simple, intuitive interfaces undoubtedly contributed to Apple’s domination of the portable music market (at just over 70% according to NPD) as well as the meteoric rise of the MP3.
Finally, for the nascent services Capps mentions – both eLawyering and healthcare microclinics – usability is key to future success. Providing basic, document-centric legal services online can only succeed in the mainstream with intuitive, well-designed UIs that eliminate the guesswork for users. For example, eLawyering sites with location-awareness and auto-fill form-fields will simplify the processes and allow users to steer clear of legal jargon they may not understand. Similarly, the microclinic model being deployed by Kaiser not only makes healthcare cheaper to provide – it will also make it easy for patients to receive. Because the facilities are local, patients needn’t drive hours to see a doctor. And because records are digital and facilities are networked, patients needn’t worry about transfer of information from one office or hospital to the next.
Capps has indeed described an interesting trend in what people want from products and services – and, subsequently, what it will take for companies to succeed in this changing environment. Winning in the Good Enough Revolution, though, is not just about trimming features to increase accessibility, flexibility, and convenience – it’s also about improving usability.