I found this graph on the discontinued Creating Passionate Users blog;
It’s a somewhat tongue in cheek diagram but completely relevant for my specific area of interest, SaaS accounting applications. At the recent Web 2.0 Expo I spent a really enjoyable hour or so discussing usability design and specifically how it relates to an increase in functionality for an accounting application. (Funnily enough I travelled half way around the world to have this discussion with the lead designer for a SaaS company based in my own country).
The gist of the discussion (or my perspective on it anyway) was that it’s easy as pie to create a good looking and intuitive user experience when your solution only includes a few functional areas, but as you roll out further functionality all of a sudden that simplicity and intuitive feel starts to lose out to nested menus, complexity and options.
I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
Apropos of course because it’s easy to product a dashboard, for example, with a gazillion levels of navigation, much more difficult to build something that includes “full” functionality and simple layout.
Specifically the question has to be asked as to how much of the toolbar bloat evident above is feature-itis and how much is functionality truly needed by the average user?
We’re still seeing most SaaS accounting products on the left hand side of the apex of the feature-itis curve – and at that point it’s easy for them to appear clean, simple and intuitive. But at the same time customers are demanding that SaaS products move up the graph and build functionally that adds options, complexity and scope to a product – and therein lies the challenge – how to keep users at the apex of the curve, while steadily increasing software functionality.
I’m no designer so I don’t have the answers to this question, in fact I suspect that there’s no real black and white answers but rather that it’s a case of having to balance features and simplicity in a never ending game of Peter and Paul.
While the decision on exactly which functionality makes the cut, and which does not, is ultimately a question answered by the strategy of the organisation, there are great resources for creating excellent user experience once the functional decision is made. One such resource (and yeah it’s a plug but one with no benefit to myself) is available from Skyrize – it’s all about rapidly prototyping the creation of great design and usability ideas.