Simple and Usable

Published on April 21, 2013
Simple and Usable, by Giles Colborne, is a book for interaction designers.


With only 180+ pages, each concept is narrated with 1 page of text and 1 page of photo, making it a very easy read.

My summary:

Why are we here?

Why not? Complexity is terrible.

Simplicity gives you more users, and happier users.

Setting a Vision

First, understand your users' world, and figure out how your design fits in.

3 types of users:
  • Experts - ignore them
  • Willing adopters
  • Mainstreamers - focus on satisfying them
Simplicity is about feeling in control, even when under stress. 

Not feeling confused or afraid what this or that button will do.

A design has to consider 3 levels:
  • World - the "where" and "when"
  • Character - the "who" and "why"
  • Plot - the "what" and "how"
Describe your vision/story in plain language, and be concise.

Then share and tell your vision/story.

There are 4 strategies to making design simple. The TV remote is a good example on how - remove, organise, hide, displace - can be applied.

Strategy 1: Remove

Remove what is unnecessary, focusing on the core, and killing lame features.

Avoid speculating what the users might, or might not, do.

They are happier when their choices are limited.

Don't distract them. Don't overload them.

They don't like options/preferences.

They don't read instructions, or long text.

"Them", refers to mainstreamers.

Strategy 2: Organise

Some techniques: 
  • Chunking
  • Categorising with hard edges
  • Sort alphabetically
  • Search (but usually not better than browse categories)
  • Time & space
  • Grids
  • Size & location (the importance)
  • Layers (like in maps)
  • Color coding (like sushi plate)
  • Desired paths


Strategy 3: Hide

Hide the infrequent, but necessary.

Progressively show features eg. stages of a task

Give cues and clues where certain features could be found.


Strategy 4: Displace

Push separate responsibilities to devices: computer and mobile phone

Push responsibilities to users. Sometimes, users prefer to be in (total) control.

Create an open experience for both experts and mainstreamers. eg. a knife


Before we go

Complexity is eventual.

The key is to shift complexity into the right place, so that each moment feels simple.

Simplicity happens in the user's head - so you must give them enough space to use their imagination.