Archive for March, 2008

Kiss: Keep It Simple Stupid

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

In one of my articles, available at I discussed how engineers like to present lots of data on the user interface, so that they user can derive further information for themselves. This is a slant that people of less technical professions might not appreciate. Typical users do not want to be blinded by lots of data, no matter how well presented. They want the data to be pared down to the minimum amount that they need to make their next decision

Always presenting lots of details does not suit all users and I came across an example of this recently. The system being analyzed was an ambulance tracking system that stored the locations of a number of ambulances which transmitted their positions to a central server. Third party mapping applications make it straightforward to display the position of all of the vehicles on a map which is displayed via a browser. This is obviously a far better way of presenting location information than simply providing longitude and latitude. Of course this looks fairly cool too. But a little further investigation showed that the better solution for many users was far simpler. At the hospital, they are only concerned with when the next patient is arriving, so they can ensure the people and resources are ready to treat him or her. So the only bit of information they want is the number of minutes before arrival. Again third party mapping applications can provide this data based on the current position. The challenge of the user interface, from the developers and from the users point of view has been greatly reduced, since now they have a simple number of minutes to display instead of integrating a mapping system into the application. The lesson here is always listen to the customer’s needs carefully to ensure that you chase the simplest solution, rather than getting lured into making things that look flashy but may make it harder to interpret the really useful information, which in this case was time to arrival.

Very often you end up implementing the flashy stuff as well, because that is needed for the sales demo that gets you in the door. But that is very different from what is useful to the end user.