Can You Have Too Much Ease-of-Use?

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🗓️ Publish Date
March 7, 2005
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We all talk about user-friendliness and usability, but is it possible to go too far? The answer really depends on the context, but yes, it is possible to make something so easy that it loses value. And the things people are passionate about always involve some level of continuous challenge. Something users can keep getting better at. Opportunities for growth.

Think about it... skiing, dancing, chess, photography, flying, dressage, gardening, dog training, environmental activism, religion... when people are into any of those things passionately (as opposed to casually supportive), they keep wanting to get better! People who are passionate always have an opportunity (which they grab) to keep improving. To keep learning more. To improve their skills and knowledge about whatever it is they love so much. They read and they practice.

So if what you offer doesn't have any challenges associated with it, and things for which people can continually learn and improve, you'll have a harder time getting people passionate about it. Now, this doesn't mean you should make your user interface challenging. If you're writing software, it's usually because the user is going to use your software to do something else. And if that thing they do using your software is challenging, then you want your software to get the hell out of the way and let the user get on with what they really love--correcting the colors of old photos, creating three-dimensional images, writing the next great novel, finding real information in the noise of a signal they're analyzing, whatever.

And in that case, you want your software to be as easy as possible, and let the challenge lie in the thing they're passionate about. And anything you can do to make that activity a better experience for the user is one step toward helping them be passionate. Because the more time they spend in a state of flow, where they're completely focused on a challenging activity for which they have the right level of knowledge and skills (and without having to think about the interface they're using to do it), the more likely they are to stay engaged.

But if you're trying to create an environment in which people can be passionate, something (just not the interface) needs to be challenging, and there must be a way for users to build and grow their knowledge and skills in a way that keeps pace with the increasing challenge.

If the thing you want users to become passionate about is simply too easy, without enough opportunity for continuing challenge and growth, they'll get bored. It's not worth it. And if the thing you want them to be passionate about is too hard, they'll get frustrated. It's not worth it. This is tricky, because you have to find ways to balance that challenge level, while also providing opportunities for your users to keep getting better.

The key to inspiring passion is to have something worth learning, and a way for that learning to happen.

If you look at things that people are passionate about, there is always some way to tell that people have really become experts. They ski double-black diamonds. They have a black-belt. They are a grand master. They grow rare orchids. They speak conversational Klingon. So one of the ways to help people become more passionate is to figure out what it looks like when people are better at that thing, and help find ways to make that happen for people. A ski resort with nothing but bunny slopes won't last long, even though everyone will have a wonderful happy and easy first three days, before they get bored and realize skiing isn't very fun. If there weren't those blue slopes beckoning (and all your friends already up there), there'd be little value in going back. And after blue, there's black, then back country, and...

Where there's passion, there's usually a user kicking ass.

Help give your users an "I kick ass" experience, and you'll greatly increase the chances that they'll become passionate.

[Update: you can get an interesting twist on this that we'll be talking more about in the future, in Dave Roger's UXCentric blog post on doing the Leonardo.]