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Why limitations are key to great UX

von Stefan Rössler am 16. Mai 2014

13 Kommentare zuletzt von angelina

There are two main reasons why limitations are great. First, they foster one’s creativity and second, limitations mean that there are less features, less buttons, and less friction in your user interface. The odds of achieving a clear and understandable user experience are way higher if you limit yourself and the features of the software you’re designing.

One example: I’m using multiple writing tools. Is use Notational Velocity for creative writing, WordPress for editing and publishing articles, Google Drive for simple and fast layouts, InDesign for more sophisticated tasks, and so on. Wouldn’t it be great if I could do all my writing in one single tool? No, it would suck!

You know why I love Notational Velocity? Because it’s so focused. I open it with one keystroke and simply start typing without a clear goal in mind. It’s perfect for creative writing because it’s so limited. There are no formatting options (only bold and italics) and you can’t do anything with your text besides copying it to another application. And that’s fine because this other application is for example perfect for editing the text.

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When we talk about user experience we often forget about the most important thing: the user’s experience. Too often designers are so obsessed with clever solutions and stunning visuals that they completely ignore the fact that their users wont care about it as much as they and the rest of the design community does. That said, clever design is not as relevant to UX as one may thinks it is.

Users are a different kind of people. They are not interested in you and your work, they are interested in themselves and the things they want to do. Another fact about users: they already use many different tools. And if your design is going to solve a problem that’s relevant to them, it’s very unlikely that it’s going to be their one and only solution. This is true for writing tools as well as for any other software I can think of right now.

Every user has a different kind of workflow and it would be disastrous if you’d try to build one tool for doing all the jobs that come with these different workflows. Microsoft tried this once with Word and we all know how well this worked out …

Don’t build the next Microsoft Word. Don’t build complex tools that cover every job within a user’s workflow. Just build the right tool for the job. The user experience can’t be controlled and it can’t be designed either. All you can do is build a tool that’s so limited that users can easily integrate it into their existing workflows (aka their user experience).

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Bisher 14 Kommentare

  1. Daniel Winter16. Mai 2014

    So you’re basically saying that Photoshop is broken aswell. It once was specialized on one job: Editing pictures. Nowadays they try to support everything from 3D rendering within the application, UI development, Web development, Compositions, Vector editing, and still photomanipulation. It grew from about 150Mb in 2007 to a monstrous 1.6 gb in 2014, offering not a single perfect workflow from all of these mentioned usage examples.

    So therefore Photoshop, with its (nearly) non-existing limitations, must be a software for non-creatives. :)

  2. Stefan Rössler16. Mai 2014

    Well, I did never say that Photoshop is broken (at least not in the post above ;) but I think you’re right.

    Software like MS Word and Photoshop try to be so many things to so many different people that they can’t offer a single perfect workflow anymore. That’s why they require most of your creativity to figure out how they actually work instead of just being able to use them creatively :)

  3. Andreas Riedmüller16. Mai 2014

    I totally support this. But tools like Photoshop and Word are/were great to have, because of their (nearly) no-limitations. I once had to format a Thesis for my wife in Pages. There were formating guidelines from university, that could not be met easily.

    While I like Pages a lot, its limitations sure have a tradeoff. If I had to decide for one „Text Software“ I would probably choose Word. The same holds true for Photoshop, even if, after using it for several years, I still find it confusing in many ways. It is already so big that it needs an OS like Interface for it’s overwhelming functionality.

    The good thing is, we do not have to decide. We already have quick access to smaller, more focused tools instantly. But this clustering of tasks to various tools expects more from an OS level. When will OSXs Dock get too small? Can it handle so many different tools, while not overwhelming the user visually, meanwhile help him to quickly switch between those tools? I sometimes can’t remember the name of a tool, struggling to find it in the Spotlight. Also the passing of files between those tools is often a burden.

    When an OS masters this disciplines, such big „tool libraries“ will fade away.

  4. Andreas Riedmüller23. Mai 2014

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