Fat homes

Matt from 37signals recently posted some excerpts from “The Eight Step Home Cure”. They are well worth a read.

This one especially jumped out at me:

But when we take something new into our home, we rarely let go of something else. This is how our home gains weight, grows unhealthy, and begins to nag at us…Most of us aren’t in need of more organizing; we need to manage our consumption, let go of our stuff, and learn how to restore life to our homes.

As a reformed hoarder, I love the analogy of a house slowly getting fat as you fill it with more and more stuff.

As an aside, I actually think that hoarding might be a genetic condition. The good news is that it isn’t necessarily terminal. I recently got my parents hooked on Trade Me (hey, it only took 7 years!) They are now enthusiastically selling off lots of their junk stuff and are well on the way to a full recovery. :-)

Fat software

If you can think of your home as a “living organism” which needs a healthy diet and regular exercise then software is surely the same.

Applications that have been around for a while and through a number of versions are typically obese with features.

A classic example is Microsoft Office. When the team planning the most recent version asked people what features they would like to have added many of the things people suggested were actually already in the product. The problem was not too few features but the opposite – there were so many features that people were struggling to find them and use them effectively.

To solve this they came up with their new ribbon UI.

As more and more functionality is added to Trade Me we have started to run into the same sort of problems. We recently added a Seller Acceleration Centre to our help to make it easier for big sellers to find the existing features they can use to make their lives easier.

In addition we haven’t been scared to take the “liposuction” approach and remove functionality altogether when it isn’t used enough to justify its place in the UI. For example, a few months back we removed Trust Webs, which allowed us to give extra prominence to a members Blacklist.

So, next time you adding a feature to your application ask yourself what you can remove to keep things in balance.

Like somebody who holds on to every nick-nack that is choking their house on the assumption that it might be useful one day, it is harder to do than it sounds.

4 thoughts on “Fat homes”

  1. Trimming the fat is a good principle – sometimes things just get overloaded… But sometimes, less *is* less.

    A sense of clutter hints at a failure in design. As Edward Tufte pointed out this Thursday, re “a dreadful and panicky redesign of the Washington Post homepage.”

    http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0002nk&topic_id=1

    So, when it comes to information communication, beware the risks of dumbing down!

    (Highly recommend ET’s second book, ‘Envisioning Information’, on that).

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