Don Norman : iPod the exception to the rule?

I hope everyone read Don Norman’s “Simplicity is over-rated” article that was blogged recently on the Core homepage. I have to say, I kept thinking of examples of popular products that followed his rule: complex-looking products sell well, often better than simple products. However, there is one striking counter-example: The iPod. I don’t know how anyone could make a simpler looking mp3 player, and yet, it is the iPod that is the top dog.

Any thoughts?

I think Donald is right in his observations, but I think that consumer culture has changing expectations. Gadgets ruled through the 1980s and 90s, but today consumers are more “design saavy” and they have more choices. As such, consumers are beginning to recognize that buying on features is an obsolete concept. People are beginning to crave simplicity. Witness “Real Simple” magazine, the popularity of “classicly simple” products like the Kitchenaid mixer, or “good old days” stores like Restoration Hardware. etc. etc.

I think Sony is paying the price for not recognizing and responding to this trend: first with the “Apple Movement”, second with the Playstation 3 (which reviews call hard to use, too expensive, not innovative enough etc.) You could also argue that society as a whole as “crossed the chasm.” Gadgets aren’t for the early adopters anymore, they’re for the early-majority. NBC Nightly News recently did a piece on how more women are buying gadgets this season than men for example.

I saw that NBC piece as well… but are they buying those gadgets for the men and boys on their list?

Otherwise I highly agree. To continue the PS3 example: I think expensive components that have nothing to do with gaming, like the “Blueray” DVD capabity, could be that products downfall… that one component delayed manufacturing, has caused QC problems, and … no one has blue ray DVD’s! Across the aisle, Nintendo spent time thinking about how people actually play games, and how they could get more people into a tight market, at a reasonable price point… it will be cool to see how it all plays out. In a few years, Blueray might prove to be a wise investment on the part of Sony, on the other hand, you can get a Nintendo Wii, enjoy it for half the price (no GT4 though…), and 2 years from now, when Blueray DVD players are $80, get one of those too.

I’m curious how the Samsung Chocolate is doing? The phone/mp3 player. I do think that if Apple and Blackberry got together and made a singular pocket device, they would have a winner… for me.

If history is an example, I wouldn’t put my money on Sony winning the technology battle wrt Blueray.

Remember Betamax?
How about MiniDisc?
Walkman was a cultural phenom, but they ended up losing that as well.

I have often thought that Sony is far to focused on the technology and not the product.

As for Donald Norman saying simplicity is over-rated…I say bullshit. I believe the 80’s and '90’s were an infancy stage of technology. Consumer electronics were born and it was what I would culturally equate to adolescence. Bigger, better, faster, more was the mantra because it was new. It was far too easy to trump the person next to you when you have Moore’s Law on your side. Just add another widget.

Now you have shelves filled with crap that works some of the time. People are recognizing that. iPod, Basecamp, MotoFone, Nintendo Wii. I believe these are the products/concepts that are the forefront of the maturity of technology.

Give me a phone that is a phone. Give me an Operatiing System that is easy to use. Don’t put another “feature” on my camera because as a product manager you have no clue how to sell it otherwise.

rant rant grunt grunt

Dan Formosa of SmartDesign says it best:

1930’s Design is about Things
1980’s Design is about Technologies
2000’s Design is about People

We’re in the transition period from the era of Tech to the era of People.
Don is reflecting on the past, not the future.