Exactly 10 years ago today, Apple Inc. introduced the iPod. It wasn’t the music player that had the largest capacity. It wasn’t the music player that offered the best music quality available. But it was the music player the revolutionized the music industry.
How did Apple do it?
It was the design. It offered what others didn’t offer.
For example, the Creative Labs Nomad was better as it had bigger capacity, and it offered great sound quality. But it was huge, chunky, and got too many buttons and options. And then there was Sony which was pushing hard for the MD format, where users had to download the music, insert the MD drive into the PC, synchronize the music, insert the MD drive into the music player, and again, there were many fancy functions.
What Apple did was the complete opposite. It offered very simple design, simple functionality, and offered iTunes to provide “one-stop” music purchase and synchronization. Want to play music? Press one button. Want to select different track? Scroll the wheel. And then people caught on because of how iPod was beautifully made and offer seamless and simple music purchase and listening experience. It became a big hit, and online music store started to boom.
So how do we translate that into our daily life? How do we translate that into web application?
A visitor that comes to the website need not select so many options. As a designer, our main aim is to provide the simplest navigation experience that we can offer, without users clicking pass some secret code to find the information that they are looking for. It is technically cool to offer a website that offer functions such as background color, music track, different elements, and etc. But the million dollar question is: do the visitors need this? Most often than not, they don’t. Making it too fancy will actually make them feel visually impaired.
It is extremely important to know what are the main function of the website. Is it to promote a product or service or is it function to provide information of the product or service? Is it function to provide video or music, or is it function to provide news about the video or music?
Once the main function of the website is defined, then it will be easier to start designing the website as we will know what we should include (features) into the website and how the design should flow.
Like functionality, we should offer a simple yet elegant website design that offer easy to find information. For example, the menu must be clearly labelled for the sake of easy navigation.
Less is more – Robert Browning (1812 – 1899)
If we look at Apple product, for instance, we see the iPhone that offer less buttons. In fact, they removed the keypad, they removed the call or end call buttons. All they got was the big home button at the bottom.
Some websites cramp all the information into main page, or some show very little information and users have to click through many links to find out what they are looking for. The ideal way is that on the main page, when the visitors scroll from top to bottom, they already have an idea what the website is about and what kind of information they can expect.
As for features, that’s always a struggle in terms of web design. But we have to draw a clear line that features do not equal to functions. A website can have many features that offer the visitors a unique browsing experience, but having too many functions will spoil the visitors browsing experience.
It is important to remember the distinction between product functions and product features. Functions are the “product’s answer to the set of user tasks”; features are the “user tools” inherent in the product used to perform the functions (Wood, 1995). Placing a telephone call is a function; the dial tone and the touch-tone keypad are features used to accomplish the function.
So we need to distinguish the difference between a function and a feature. Once we get that out of the way, we will be able to provide specific one or two functions but with many features.