When Less is More

A recent article entitled “When less is more” in The Economist does an excellent job of outlining why, in products ranging from notebooks to software, less in terms of features and gadgets is often more when it comes to a satisfying end-user experience.

The introductory paragraph does an excellent job of framing the discussion:

Why is it so many manufacturers cannot leave well alone? They go to great pains to produce exquisite pieces of technology. Then too often, instead of merely honing the rough edges away to perfection, they spoil everything by adding unnecessary bells and whistles and unwarranted girth. In the pursuit of sales, they seem to feel they must continually add further features to keep jaded customers coming back for more. It is as if consumers can’t be trusted to respect the product for what the designers originally intended.

This phenomenon, often called “feature creep” or “featureitis” among software developers, is something pervades the software industry. Many of the desktop applications we use every day have evolved over the course of 10 or 20 years, and the demand to continually add features comes from both customers and competitors. Correspondingly, many purchasing decisions come down to a feature-matrix comparison of Product A VS Product B, with the prize going to the product with the most bells and whistles.

Apple proved how little a feature matrix-based comparison mattered with the release of the iPod in 2001. Other portable music players at the time had built-in FM tuners, supported more music formats, and some even acted as PDAs. The iPod had none of these features, but it beat the other players hands-down with its beautiful and simplistic design. Seven years later the iPod commands over 70% of the portable music player market. We’ve since seen the “simple is better” design ethos embraced by a broad range of companies looking to make their customers happy not through a long list of features, but rather through a smaller set of features that have been designed carefully and implemented well.

What a feature matrix-based comparison of products often fails to factor in is that with every feature comes complexity. Every added feature is something that a new user must learn how to use, and existing users must internalize and keep in their long-term memory every time they use the software. Simpler software means a shallower learning curve. In a world where time is the most precious commodity we have, simplicity and ease of use should perhaps be the most important factor in considering which legal practice management product is the best fit for your firm’s needs. More is not always better.

The article concludes with a quote that shaped our approach when we started building Clio with a vision of realizing “practice management simplified”:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry,

While perfection will undoubtedly always be out of reach, “When less is more” resonates with our aspirations to evolve Clio with a philosophical devotion to intuitive usability and purposeful design, in the hope that function is never compromised by features.