“Pity gives way to respect when much more value is delivered than originally expected.” - John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity.
What a great quote! That’s exactly how I felt a few weeks ago when I helped a friend install Nest in his house. Nest is a classic case of simple design. It is also a great example of a Natural User Interface (NUI). These interfaces encourage users to interact through their simple, seemingly familiar design. For instance, in Nest, there is only one/two input controls; the ring and the clickable screen itself. There is nothing else that gets in the way. The user is not overwhelmed with a bunch of options and, therefore, decisions become more obvious. Watch this 4-minute video on the setup process then read on…
The most interesting part to me was the use of the same input device (the ring) with inherently different UI components.
The ring is used with different list options (Wifi Networks in the video). By rotating the ring, the user is able to step through (highlight) each option in the list.
Another use case for the ring is typing in a text box (password in the video) by selecting letters, numbers and special characters from the screen.
Yet a third use case is applying the ring as a spinner field to loop through a list of numbers to set the zip code. And lastly, the main use case, adjusting the thermostat, is also controlled with the ring. Rotate right for heating and left for cooling, as the interface provides feedback through the temperature in degrees and color codes (orange=heating, blue=cooling).
The interface highly demonstrates good design decisions. Notice, for instance, how confirming actions are made a bit more explicit by clicking on the screen or the ring. This way, users don’t get frustrated confirming an action they didn’t explicitly make. All other options are made more forgiving by using the ring/wheel.
When users have a limited set of options, they have no choice but to zero in on those available options and start interacting with them.
“Proportionately more attention shall be paid to that which is made less available.” - John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity.
By the time users work their way through the first UI control, they’re experts at using the thermostat. Learning one use case means learning a whole set of familiar interactions in this UI.
As designers, we have to remember that each time a user gets introduced to a new option, there is some level of uncertainty. It takes a special designer to cut down on those uncertainties by reducing the options in a way that’s still fully functional and appealing. Now compare Nest my friend’s more familiar-looking, older thermostat.
Overwhelmed? I’d like to hear your thoughts.