1000x Faster than Programming – Part 2: Impossible Strategies

In my previous post I discussed the simplicity / functionality quadrant, which gives a good starting point to discuss strategies. If you haven’t read that post, I suggest you read it first and then return to this post. For reference, this is our quadrant:

Moving to another quadrant

There are many tools that live in quadrant 2. Complex, powerful tools that, when used by an experienced user, can deliver stunning results. Adobe Photoshop is a good example such a tool. It has so many options, I could probably write 1000 blog posts just covering the options, not to mention their many use cases. But these options come at the cost of high complexity, or in other words, the application is hard to use. So hard, that many books have been written about it, hundreds of pages each.

It is extremely hard to create an application that has the same power, yet is much easier to use. For example, Instagram is much easier to use, but far less powerful than Photoshop. Instagram therefore, lives in quadrant 3, where all easy-to-use yet less powerful tools live. The big question of course, is how do you get to quadrant 4?

Overcoming complexity

Let’s start by taking a look at those applications that currently reside in quadrant 2, the powerful, unwieldy tools. The shortest route for such a tool would be straight up, just make the application easier to use:

The problem however, is that it is extremely hard to make a powerful tool simpler. Often, in order to move even a little bit in this direction, a completely new concept is needed. If we take Photoshop and Instagram as an example, Instagram is a completely different concept than Photoshop and that makes it easier to use.

On the downside, it means it is less powerful. If Photoshop would ever want to reach quadrant 4 (which I think they don’t, but that’s a different discussion), they would have to start from scratch and come up with a completely new concept of how to do photo editing.

That concept must immediately be complete, because users will not accept less functionality in a new version (except for small changes that offer slightly less functionality). That means that they cannot move left on the diagram while moving up at the same time:

Both strategies are equally impossible. In the first case, the costs would be too high since every line of code would have to be rewritten in a completely redesigned concept. In the second strategy, the same concept is used, but only a part of the functionality is rewritten. Other options will be added later, to move into Quadrant 4.

This will never be accepted by users however, since they are accustomed to the functionality they have right now. That means it is extremely hard to move from Quadrant 2 to Quadrant 4, if not completely impossible.

Overcoming lack of functionality

But what if Instagram would want to move to Quadrant 4? The quickest way to get there is to simply move right along the axis of functionality:

The caveat is that this is not as easy as it looks. Simply adding more functionality results in more complexity. In other words, if you add more buttons to your application, it becomes harder to use. And instead of simply moving to the right, the application would quickly fall towards quadrant 2 instead:

The only remedy here is to have taken into account adding new features when designing the concept of the application. Much like adding simplicity is hard because it requires a different concept of how to use the application; adding features is also hard because it requires the concept of how to use the application to anticipate adding more functionality while remaining easy to use.

Instagram for example, is easy to use because it uses filters. If they wanted more functionality, they could add many more filters. But that would inevitably make it harder for the user to find the filter they want.

The holy grail

Getting to quadrant 4 is therefore very hard to do. It requires a deep understanding of the problem that the application or platform is trying to solve, as well as much creativity in devising a new way to do so. Instead of thinking in terms of features, or usability alone, designers must think in concepts. And most importantly, designers must be willing to design a new concept from scratch in order to move into quadrant 4.

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