Too much information

Ever tried to drive in downtown DC or New York? How do I get to where I need to be? Signs Have you ever gone to a new airport or train station and been overwhelmed with too much information? I’m sure when the terminal was opened there were only a few signs but with time, a sign was added here and there, and another and another and another. And now there are so many signs that you can’t see anything. Today’s public areas are polluted. Wikipedia says,
Visual pollution is the term given to unattractive visual elements of a vista, a landscape, or any other thing that a person might want to look at. Commonly cited examples are billboards, litter, graffiti, overhead powerlines, utility poles, contrails, skywriting, buildings, signs, weeds and advertisements. Noise pollution (or environmental noise in technical venues) is displeasing human or machine created sound that disrupts the environment.
Speaking of pollution, have you ever used someone else’s computer and ached to “clean it up”? There are icons all over the desktop that you know are never used. There are empty folders in My Documents, put there by installations of software that have never been used. The typical desktop is a mess! Or you sit at a “power users” machine for a different type of mess: quite a few programs running plus gadgets all over the place plus a couple of messaging windows plus a desktop pattern that changes every few minutes. [Why is it that people refer to the desktop pattern as a screen saver? They’re entirely different concepts.] Today’s computer desktop is polluted. Ambient Ambient offers a series of devices that use color to deliver information. The Ambient Orb changes colors to track the performance of Wall Street. Or you can monitor traffic, the weather, specific stock performance, someone's IM status, and more. It even has an API I'm told so you can create your own. I want so much for this product to be meaningful but alas, I fear it is only cool. If it was a little cheaper maybe. Still, a cool idea, don't you think? Use color instead of text to show status. For the next few days, look around: how often could color be used instead to indicate information that is shown only in text? Open vs closed. On vs off. Fast vs slow. RainbowTwo new computer keyboards were introduced recently, one from Luxeed, one from Apple. Luxeed’s keyboard uses color is a truly silly way. Color decorates the keyboard while adding absolutely no value. In fact, the color implementation detracts; I bet using it actually slows down one’s typing. I can hear some engineer saying, “this is so coool!” and who knows? someone may actually buy the damn thing. (But it’ll probably be a parent who doesn’t understand computers buying it as a gift for a power-user teenager who will promptly pitch it out the window.) Meanwhile, Apple introduced an ultra-thin keyboard—in wired and wireless formats—that proves that color isn't necessary. When color doesn’t add value, eliminate it. Color for color's sake is not a good strategy. Perhaps the keyboard is bland but I’m not supposed to be looking at my fingers anyway, right? Actually, the Apple keyboard is so thin I wonder if it will be hard to use. [I’d be glad to test it if anyone at Apple wants to send me one.] Color for the sake of color is noise. I suppose simple, clean designs aren’t always better but in my experience, simple is good and noisy is bad. Luxeed used color for no reason and created noise. Apple removed color entirely and created simple.
Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.


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