In their book Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write a chapter advising us to “Say No by Default.” This is a great way to force simplicity in a project. When it comes to presenting a product, we should still think that we’re saying “no.” We should make it simple by default.
When Microsoft Word was the only word processing game in town, every new version made things more and more complex in an attempt to help users out. The menu grew. The auto-complete functions expanded. If we typed a number and hit return, it automatically indented the line and inserted the subsequent number on a new line. This annoyed the hell out of me. What Microsoft never did was hide their new “smart” features by keeping them “off.”
I would have thought that automatically formatting lists was very handy, but only when I wanted it. So why didn’t Microsoft hide all the complex new features and streamline Word’s usage by default?
I love software that has an opinion on how you should use it. Basecamp, WriteRoom, and apps focused on one thing have an opinion by limiting the ways a user can complicate it.
To help us cut the cruft, let’s make the product simple by default. Those clever features we’ve added might exist for power users but they don’t have to be in the default display. Once we move those extras out of the way, we might discover we don’t need them at all. That’s when we really get to the heart of simple.