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« Gray Matter and the Bell Curve | Commercial Art is an Oxymoron »

Give Me Robust Every Time

Everyone has a theory regarding the popularity and mystique of the original Volkswagen Beetle. Here's mine.

Sure the Beetle was cheap - but other cheap competitors soon followed. No one reminisces endlessly or muses romantically about their old Ford Pinto or Chevy Vega. No, the Beetle was one of those rare products that was both simple to use and hard to break. It was very robust. It didn't have very many features, but everything about the Beetle was simple, solid, and easy to use. It knew what is was - simple, reliable transportation and it did that well. How many products can we say are truly robust?

The older I get, the more I treasure robustness. It's the wisdom of age. When you realize that your years are limited, you start to order your priorities - not wasting time, very quickly, becomes number one. I don't want to waste time looking for a volume knob on a stereo, looking for the timer on a microwave oven, or repairing anything. I want everything in my life to be "simple to use, and hard to break." I want robust.

Features are the enemy. Every new feature complicates things exponentially because not only do you have to learn to use them, you also have to fix them when they break (or break other things they touch - think software updates).

The generally accepted mantra of corporate America "features sell products" may be about to change as a large segment of our population, the baby boomers, grow old and rebel against time wasting additions to familiar products.

For instance, I'm a creative professional, and I still don't use more than half of the features in my creative editing suite. How many average users use more than 10% of the features in Microsoft Word? And every line of code increases the learning curve and the probability of conflict with other code - making programs harder to learn and more likely that something will break.

It is my hope that more companies will focus on ease of use and durability instead of useless features. I applaud Apple's Jonathan Ive when regarding the latest iPhone 5, he said: "We take changing it (the iPhone) really seriously. We don't just want to make a new phone, we want to make a much better phone."

I'm a simple man, with simple needs. I don't want to spend time learning or repairing the "things" in my life. Companies, please make your products "easy to use and hard to break" - give me robustness over features every time.

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