Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Simple Designs are Hard

Reading Peter's last couple of posts got me thinking about a great TED conference presentation made by former Broadway pianist and NY Times tech columnist David Pogue. A couple of years ago he talked at TED about the design of technology and the importance of simplicity in design.

A lot of what we do as BI developers is design ways for people to mess around with, and learn from, information. One one of the key principles behind a doing this well is to ensure simplicity. A lot of what Tufte and other data visualisation experts talk about can be seen to derive from this principle, and as Peter said, despite the experimental and anecdotal evidence to support it, it's something the vendors often don't do well. One of the reasons for this is that it's just plain hard, and probably something that most software engineers are not very good at doing. Simple, elegant and intuitive interfaces for BI apps are not just aesthetically pleasing, they lead to better understanding on the part of decision makers, and creative uses of the tools that can lead to unexpected insights - which sounds awfully like the vendors' own jargon. I wish they'd listen to people like David Pogue a bit more.

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