Highly recommended reading on design, usability, simplicity, paradox of choices (Barry Schwartz bestseller) and decision making processes of end users in this post by Dmitri Siegel on Adobe. I agree on simplicity in most cases (see also current Web 2.0 successes and startups) but when you develop a portal or eCommerce site with millions of users it is a different story. In my view, the use of user centered design including online personas and their site scenarios as well as link rich homepages might do the job. And in my view the remarks on context and narrative are very interesting (quotes below).
"Peter Morville’s book Ambient Findability is focused on how to make useful information more accessible and present in our environment. He observes how technologies like GPS, RFIDs and meta-tagging are changing how we think about accessibility. With his background in information science, Morville introduces the work of Ambient Devices whose motto is “information everywhere.” Ambient Devices has a small line of products that seamlessly insert bits of useful information into everyday life. For example, they are developing an umbrella that glows when rain is forecast and a watch that reminds you when to take medications.
The 2006 Simplicity Event One held this October by Philips brought together many of these strains of research. The expo featured exploratory designs for products aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles. The concept products take the narrative context of the user’s life as their starting place. For example In Form is a set of motivational body measurement tools, linked to an information display. The display keeps people better informed about their physical condition—weight, fat, hydration and body shape—through personal history records, and tailored advice. Body Cycle is a thermometer linked to a display mirror, which provides interactive advice to help women monitor and manage ovulation, fertility, and menstruation. Making this useful information vivid and findable means that it is likely to play a significant role in the user’s decision-making process.
These projects build on the work Philips is already doing in its CareLab. According to Ivo Lurvink, CEO of Philips Consumer Healthcare Solutions, “The whole idea of the lab is to deepen our insight into how the elderly and chronically ill deal with the new medical technologies.” By conceiving of their customers as protagonists in their own lives, Philips was able to see how important the role of context and setting is in decision-making. Carelab makes recommendations by emitting a steady stream of information into the user’s environment rather than delivering a huge glut of data when the user is least equipped to deal with it. This allows the user to make simple decisions in context rather than tackling a complex, overwhelming decision at a moment of crisis. This narrative of integrated decision-making lowers the anxiety surrounding these high-stakes decisions.
Humans have a complicated relationship to choice and decision-making. On the one hand, we cherish our freedom and value free will. On the other hand, our innate decision-making instincts are irrational and easily manipulated. In order for interfaces and applications to truly help people make more responsible, abiding decisions, designers need to acknowledge that different types of decisions require different solutions. This point was made particularly salient by a recent RAND Corporation study of web sites providing medical information, which found that, “with rare exceptions they are doing an equally poor job.” Most interfaces either encourage maximizing that leads to discontent and uncertainty, or they reinforce the human brain’s expedient but irrational decision-making tendencies. Interfaces designed specifically for high-stakes decision-making like health care need to transcend these shortcomings by being simple, addressing the narrative of use, and making useful information findable."