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Customer Review

on September 27, 2010
We've all been frustrated by a gadget, from trying to install a printer to spending hours setting up a new mobile phone. Page one of Simple and Usable points out that: "[The] Technology that is supposed to make our lives easier often feels like it's on the march against us." What then is the antidote to confusing products, software, and web sites? The answer is--as one might guess from the title of the book--simplicity.

Simple and Usable is both an extremely approachable and an incredibly practical guide to simplicity. Author Giles Colborne compelling shares four fundamental strategies for accomplishing simplicity: remove, organize, hide, and displace.

First, figure out the most important tasks of mainstream users, and make those tasks really easy to accomplish. Then, kill all the features that aren't core. From limiting choice, to eliminating distraction, to using smart defaults, Giles offers many tangible tactics for reducing complexity.

But just throwing something out isn't the only way to simplify. Effective organization can make an interface feel simpler to use. "There are plenty of options open to you in organizing an interface--size, color, position, shape, hierarchy." Giles explains that organizing for simplicity involves emphasizing just one or two important elements. He shares useful techniques for achieving organization such as chunking, hard edges, grids, and layering.

For those features that can't be eliminated but that are used only rarely, Giles recommends a third strategy: hiding. "Often a feature has a few core controls for mainstreamers and extended, precision controls for experts," he says. "Hiding the precision controls is a good way to keep things simple." Giles shares how progressive disclosure and timely clues can be used to reveal a hidden feature at just the right moment.

While the first three strategies--remove, organize, and hide--work well in conjunction, the fourth strategy is, as Giles puts it, "a cheat." Displacement is the technique of moving functionality from one location, say a TV remote control, to a different location, such as onto the TV screen itself. "One of the secrets of creating simple experiences," Giles says, "is putting the right functionality on the right... part of the system."

Not only is Simple and Usable packed with practical strategies for achieving simplicity, but it's also quite an enjoyable read. Giles manages to infuse frequent examples into the book's impressively concise 1-page sections, making for inviting reading whether you're on a 3-minute bus ride or spending a Saturday at the cafe. As an advocate of simplicity myself, I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a hand in building websites, software, or products.
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