Simplicity Ain’t So Simple, Part V: Combine Features

In this series of blog posts for developers, I’ve talked about simplifying your software by hiding non-essential features (or not adding them in the first place).  But sometimes you can simplify your software by combining features.

That may sound weird, but take a close look at your application and chances are you’ll find some features that overlap.  Look even closer and you may discover that you can combine those features in a way that makes your application simpler.  Here’s an example:

Over the past few releases of FeedDemon, I’ve struggled with the number of items to show on the toolbars.  I wanted to make sure that the most important features were easily accessible, but I didn’t want to overwhelm new users by showing too much at once.

By far the biggest struggle has been with the toolbar above FeedDemon’s integrated web browser, which looks like this:

Notice that the address and search boxes are separate?  To geeks like me it makes perfect sense to do this, but as Ivan Ičin points out, less experienced users don’t always see these as separate actions.  So this week I decided to combine them, like this:

And you know what?  Not only is this more intuitive for inexperienced users, but I’m finding that I like it better as well (a lot better, in fact).  Combining these features is simpler than having them separate.

Combining features can also mean making an educated decision about an action the user makes.  For example, although you can explicitly tell FeedDemon to mark an article as read, it’s automatically marked as read when you click its title to navigate to it on the web.  You’ve chosen to read the article online, so why force you to mark it as read?  By combining the two actions, FeedDemon is simpler to use.

Similarly, TopStyle has one toolbutton for refreshing the internal browser so that it shows the latest changes, and another toolbutton for saving those changes to disk.  But when you save changes to disk, TopStyle assumes you’ll want to see those changes, so the browser is automatically refreshed.  Not forcing the user to explictly refresh the browser after saving changes makes TopStyle simpler to use.

These are minor things, sure, but it’s the little things that keep people using your software for the long haul.  It’s easy to impress new users with a shiny new UI, but if you want to keep them as customers, save them a few steps.

2 thoughts on “Simplicity Ain’t So Simple, Part V: Combine Features

  1. I agree with you that the address and search boxes work better together.
    In Internet Explorer 6, there was only the address box, but you could also type your search there and I did it there all the time.
    But then strangely, IE 7 is released, and despite their efforts to save header space, they split off the search into its own box.
    Microsoft’s UI decisions are sometimes perplexing. I can’t believe that they actually tested this one.

  2. I’d forgotten that IE6 had this feature – and I don’t even recall using it when I had IE6 installed. I guess it was hard to drop the habit of thinking of the address bar as a place to type URLs only :)
    Hopefully the fact that FeedDemon has “Address or Search Term” in grayed text will make it more obvious that you can do this.

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