Design principle: avoid the need to ask the question

Yes, it’s another Steve Jobs tribute. But this is good short one, trust me. Steve Jobs believed in stripping away non-essential choices when making products easier to use and learn over time. Sounds obvious now, and it has become the opening chat up line for any discerning product designer and manager. Yet it’s how Jobs framed this thinking that makes it interesting.

In designing our products, we build up many choices, alternative routes and flows, ideas on how our product should behave and work.

Ken Kocienda, principal engineer at Apple during the early stages of the developing the first iPad keyboard, recounts how the development team came up with two keyboard layouts. The user could switch back and forth depending on what they needed to do. But how to switch? What was the best way to make this experience easy for the user to learn? They demoed the concept to Jobs, who immediately saw how unintuitive the switching between keyboards was, and how it would negatively affect user experience. He asked that only one option ship.

From Apple’s First iPad Commercial

As Jobs saw it, the best way to answer difficult design decisions is to avoid the need to ask them in the first place. If product designers find these questions difficult to answer, how are users going to answer them?

Be decisive in design decisions when selecting what we show the user and show them a clear path. Don’t hedge our bets and include the kitchen sink. Give people the one feature we think will work best and test it from there. 

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