More is Sometimes Less

Someone sent Don Norman a critique implying that a machine was more usable because it contained only one button. His response is interesting:

Nice story, but wrong. Fewer buttons do not necessarily mean easier use … When assessing simplicity, don’t get all hung up on the number of buttons. Look at the whole picture: more is sometimes less.

The sentiment will resonate with anyone who’s tried to set an el cheapo digital clock, the kind of clock that skimps on an hour button and makes you run through all 1440 minutes of the day. Slow. Or tried to set the time on a digital watch, whereupon you learn in the manual (if you’re fortunate enough to have kept it) that you must depress down “Button B” for 3 seconds. Confusing.

The same thing happens with language. Sometimes introducing a new term for something reduces complexity overall. When talking about software architecture, for example, life would be a lot more tedious if you didn’t have terms like “Factory”, “Singleton”, “Proxy”.

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