The Beauty and Difficulty of Designing Intuitively Simple Products

Steve Jobs said one of the most insightful things in tech history when he introduced the iPad and said, “You already know how to use it.” And guess what? You did. It might take you 5 or 10 minutes to play around, but there were no manuals, no videos. There’s no showing you anything. You figure it out because they figured out how to make the thing utterly intuitive.

That has set the bar for most technology.

When I was growing up, the workplace was where you could find all the cool gadgets. We poor consumers had little to no innovation in our homes. Our technology was sub-standard; it was clunky. Hi-fi systems used to look like the flight deck of a jumbo jet. It was all but impossible to play a piece of music on them.

It was the workplace that had all the cool stuff because that’s where the investment was going. Then one day Apple (and others) came along, recognizing that consumers were a much bigger market, and it was time consumers had something that was intuitive and beautiful at their fingertips. The irony of it all is that we’ve become so accustomed to devices that are simple and intuitive that we forget there was any other way… until we go to the workplace, where things are often still complex and clunky.

But designing intuitively simple-to-use products is quite hard. Have you ever watched a footballer make a goal or a basketball player make a three-point shot and thought, “They make it look so simple”? But what looks effortless takes enormous sacrifice and commitment.

When products are both intuitive and simple, I guarantee they took thousands of hours to develop. Reaching a higher level of simplicity takes a commitment to eliminate anything that might confuse users or waste their time. When you put the customer at the forefront of the design, it shifts the focus of what goes into the product itself. Gone are menus and other extraneous features that create unnecessary complexity and frustration. And that’s the direction things are headed.

Companies can no longer afford to design things that impose a learning curve in order to use them. They need to figure out what people actually do. Study how people approach a product. Learn how people want to use it.

At SMART, we have a heritage in interactive collaboration tools, but in many cases, they were prescriptive and required training. While this works well in some cases, we’re also focused on creating beautiful, intuitive products that people will use every day and consider indispensable.

We reimagined the whiteboard by creating the exact same natural experience of picking up a normal dry-erase marker and writing on it. The beauty of the whiteboard is that it doesn’t tell you how to write that mathematics equation or how to draw an org chart or how to brainstorm out a new design of a chair. It works the way you work.

We then added some magic so that remote participants can be involved simply and easily. With SMART kapp iQ, there’s even more magic with the display: real-time multi-way sharing. That’s just another way of saying that a bunch of people can all be in the same room – or not – and all contribute to that same whiteboard no matter where they are in the world. It’s really clever but beautifully simple.

Getting to something so simple required us to rethink our approach. We studied, learned and watched how people used our products and challenged our designers and engineers to simplify them. We removed the unnecessary complexity so that users don’t need to change the way they work in order to use them. Instead, they work exactly how users expect them to work.

Done right, the result is magical. Done right, people want to use that product again and again because it brings pleasure: it works the way we expect it to work. Naturally and intuitively.

 

Discover the intuitively designed simplicity and magic of SMART kapp for yourself. 

 

Image credit: WoodleyWonderworks

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Neil Gaydon
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About Neil Gaydon

Neil Gaydon is President and CEO of SMART Technologies. Prior to joining SMART, he was CEO of Pace plc, a technology developer for pay TV and broadband service providers. During his tenure as CEO at Pace, he led the company through a major turnaround resulting in a ten-fold increase in revenues to become the world leader. Throughout his career, his hallmark has been defining and executing strategy, creating effective structure and changing business culture on a global scale. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School in the Advanced Management Program.

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