Software is frighteningly powerful today. With all that power comes the ability to really hand over all sorts of knobs and switches to users. Hey we built it, we may as well give the end users all that power right?
I use 37 Signals’ great little Backpack tool for to-do list reminders that I get via SMS and email. It’s a great tool and actually not overly complicated. Yet still, end users are still required to do some work to make it useful for themselves. In fact, the final step is a tricky one: formulating a useful usage pattern for yourself as a user. Remember, most end-users aren’t tech savvy or even care to be creative with how to “hack” software tool for their own purposes. People want a problem-solver out of the box.
Imagine, takemymedicine.com, built atop the Backpack engine that serves a single, very narrow, but very common purpose: it lets you know when it’s time to take your medicine. You can achieve this capability on Backpack with almost zero additional effort. In fact, to achieve this goal, some functionality gets shut off (e.g. the need to specify an exact date for a reminder). This is a good thing.
By framing the software to fit a real problem, you lift the burden of completing the puzzle for users. By applying constraints to what the software can do and by clearly conveying why the software exists in the first place, the purpose and goal become clearer. A less cluttered experience and a clearer purpose lead to a broader audience. My 50 year old aunt wouldn’t know what to do with Backpack. She may know what to do with takemymedicine.com. Less is more.