Making up my mind about oversimplification

September 21, 2007


I just saw that my post Oversimplification is Confusing from a few weeks ago got posted on Signal vs. Noise. Coincidentally, I posted yesterday that things should be as simple as possible, and then some. Well, well, well. Sounds a little contradictory, doesn’t it?

As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” But actually, I don’t think the two posts really contradict each other. When I talked about oversimplification, the example I gave of the Photoshop dialog box wasn’t actually a problem with oversimplification, it was a problem with not enough simplification. Or, wrong simplification — take your pick. Presumably they “simplified” the dialog box by not including a full explanation of why you would ever choose to uncheck the “maximize compatibility” box. They probably should have simplified further by removing the option altogether. Instead, they left a corner case baked into the UI. In other words, the overfitted their solution to the problem.

Maybe I should have stuck with my original title for the first post: Don’t Ask Stupid Questions.