This is part of a series looking at John Maeda’s ten Laws of Simplicity.
“In simplicity we trust.”
This is my favorite chapter. It explains a connection between usability and simplicity that I always knew was there, but never tried to figure out. It also foreshadows privacy issues that are bound to be a bigger deal in 2007 and beyond.
Usability as trust
Like trust in people, in order for a Web site to gain trust it has to prove itself deserving. The other laws help because something simple to use is easier to trust.
There are a lot of Web sites that feel “breakable.” I have even built some of them. Many mistakes can cause that feeling: ugly designs, layout bugs, and shoddy error checking, to name a few. When users run into a problem it makes a little chink in the trust armor. A couple of those and users start seeing chinks where there is no defect.
When a Web site fails gracefully, this builds trust–especially when the error is fixable and non-fatal. Maeda devotes two pages to the concept of “undo:”
Computer tools give us the option to undo often, and no infinitely. Digital media is a forgiving media. Any visual mark, spoken utterance, or typed word entered into a the digital domain can just as easily be removed.
Undo on the Web is not nearly as ubiquitous as in desktop applications. In fact, I’d say it is nearly non-existant. At best, most Web sites only provide an undocumented and makeshift re-do option, where you can backtrack your steps and do it right.
Privacy as trust
Another side of trust is that it is increasingly common is related to personal data. Briefly at the end of law three I mentioned how much time we save by banking online. That greatly simplifies checking balances and transferring money between accounts. Online banking only works if we trust our data to the banks. They need to either keep us safe or keep our financials off the Web.
There are also other types of personal data that could be just as harmful in the wrong hands. The same information can be used to give us better browsing experiences.
Maeda gives us a trust continuum:
The left side, how much you need to know, is covered in usability above and law four, learn. As we get smarter stuff, the need to learn will decrease. With more of our services online, we’ll likely start questioning the right side of the continuum. How much does the system need to know about me?
If tools ask for too much, they’ll lose some of the trust they’ve built up. If tools get too personal before building trust, they’ll lose users before they even get a chance to build trust.